Natasha Reece has been acting as a caregiver for her grandfather, Jerry Whelan, who has frontotemporal dementia, since November 2020 after his wife, Alma, was admitted to the hospital with COVID-19. The family looked into hiring outside help, but the costs were quite high. It made sense for Natasha, who had been in the social work field, to become his caretaker, although she says that early on, she actually acted as a caretaker to both of her grandparents since it took Alma months to recover.
In addition to cleaning, cooking, and running errands, Natasha was the official coordinator for her family. She had a notebook with instructions for her extended family to read for the times when she wasn’t there. Now that her grandmother is healthier, Natasha primarily coordinates activities to keep her grandfather’s dementia from getting worse, as well as to alleviate stress on her grandmother.
While not every day is great, “I’m getting to spend time with my grandparents. I don’t know a lot of other 28-year-olds that get to do that,” she says. She is big into meditation so she tries to turn to those techniques whenever she begins to feel overwhelmed, but says, “There have been times when I’m like, ‘I’m going to do laundry.’” Just getting a few minutes away to the basement can provide a little nugget of mental refreshment.
Like a lot of caregivers, Natasha has learned the art of distraction to help ease tensions for both herself and her grandparents. “I’ll try to pull him away and do something. I find Papaw chores,” she says. This keeps him active and gives everyone a chance to calm down. “Right now I need to clean out my car, and I’m saving that chore for when I really need to bring Papaw outside,” she says.
Being easy-going helps Natasha keep her stress in check when caregiving for her grandfather. “I don’t need to bring him into my reality; I can meet him. If he starts talking about somebody that’s been dead for 10 years as if he just talked to him on the phone today, I don’t care. I’m not going to try to correct him,” she says. Such a conversation would be stressful for them both and wouldn’t do any good.
By Carrie Vittitoe | Photos by Erika Doll