AT some point in our lives, we may not be able to be the caregiver who’s able to completely take care of our loved one. This might be due to location or distance where the separation may not be by choice. We all have our own lives to lead and destinies to fulfil.

When something like this happens and our loved ones, such as our parents, child or a family member is ill, we suddenly have to look at our options.

Do we move back? Do we commute? Or do we stay put and do the best we can under the circumstances?

Long-distance caregiving isn’t easy. It’s filled with challenges and you’re quite often riddled with guilt because you can’t be there to do it. This guilt usually sneaks in when something goes wrong and you’re so far away. The distance makes you feel helpless.

At such times, you’ll find it a blessing when someone in the family is there, willing and able to be with the loved one 24/7. As you make a compromise of sorts, you should choose to stay involved.

One of the things you can do as a long-distance caregiver is to be organised and to always be in touch with the primary caregiver. You can still do quite a lot for the family even though you’re far away.

MAKING IT COUNT

To begin with, you could help by giving some input on the situation. If you’re Internet-savvy, you can scour for information so that everyone is up to date with the latest information on the illness and disease management. This helps future discussions with the doctors.

You can make video calls to your loved one to bridge the distance. You never know how precious it is to hear the voice of the one you love, and it’s a bonus when you can also make visual contact.

You can still be involved in the day-to-day events if you’re aware of the nitty gritty of the situation, not just from the health angle but also the challenges that the primary caregiver faces.

For example, it could be the situation at home where the loved one’s room needs to be more handicap-friendly.

It could also pertain to money matters. Every contribution helps to defray costs, especially if you have to hire outside assistance or private nursing.

On your visits home, check the current status for yourself. Sometimes, by looking at things with fresh eyes, you’d be able to note things better than someone who sees it every day.

Are there any changes in looks or behaviour, has he lost or gained weight, etc?

Do things to make your visits special, like taking your loved one out shopping or even accompanying him to one of the doctor’s appointments.

CHECKING IN

The best way to know the current state of affairs is to have family meetings when you come home. This was how it worked for my family when my late parents were ill.

There were seven of us. Two of my three sisters lived with my parents. My other sister, along with my two brothers, lived out of the Klang Valley while the third brother lived abroad. I lived close enough to my parent so I was there nearly every day.

The sisters would check in on each other on a daily basis. I’m the one who usually accompanied my parents for all hospital visits, whether for check-ups, treatments, admissions or discharge.

One of my sisters would ensure that there’d always be transport to take them to the hospital if I had to come from somewhere else.

Another sister would make sure all at home is well in terms of running of the home and kitchen. The other sister would always take the night shift if either parent ever needed to be admitted to the hospital.

Since all three brothers weren’t in town, they kept in close touch with the sisters. But when they did return to stay at my parents, they gave us the opportunity to take a break.

Of course this also called for a family reunion of sorts where we got the chance to discuss all angles of the situation, including air grouses and addressing what needed to be done. Some of the things we discussed were situations and emergencies that had occurred and what we needed to do if it happened again.

When you live far away, ensure you set aside time and money in case you need to make an unexpected trip home for an emergency. Sometimes the distance makes you closer because you take nothing for granted.

Putri Juneita Johari volunteers for the Special Children Society of Ampang. She can be reached at [email protected].