Diocesan News

Group Shines Light on Challenges Of Caring for Elderly Relatives

Arleen Warnock, who spent years caring for her husband Gerard, said she started her support group to offer other caregivers the type of information she could have used back then. (Photo: Courtesy of Arleen Warnock)

BAY RIDGE — Arleen Warnock spent 11 years caring for her husband Gerard following a back injury he suffered that rendered him an invalid. While the experience brought them closer together in a lot of ways, it was also a stressful time for both.

“Little by little, he got worse and worse,” Warnock recalled. “At first. he just needed a cane, then a walker, and then a wheelchair in the last three years of his life. 

“He couldn’t even stand up at all. I had to use a Hoyer lift to get him in and out of bed every day.”

Gerard passed away in 2019. Looking back on her past struggles, Warnock said the one thing she could have used at that time was someone to talk to who could understand what she was facing.

That’s one of the reasons she recently started the Caregivers Support Group at Our Lady of Angels Church in Bay Ridge, where she is a parishioner. The group meets on the first Tuesday of each month at the church at 7320 4th Ave. So far, Warnock admitted, attendance has been spotty; she hopes it will pick up, but currently, she speaks with other participants by phone.  

The goal is to provide information to caregivers on how laws like the Family Leave Act work and to lead caregivers to available resources through Medicaid and other programs. But mostly, the support group is there to give people the chance to talk about their experiences with others who have been on the same emotional journey. 

“I wanted to give people a place where they can talk honestly about what they’re going through,” Warnock explained.

Father Kevin Abels, pastor of Our Lady of Angels Church, said the support group provides an important service.

“Caring for and being present to the sick is how we respond to the Lord’s invitation to care for those in need,” he said. “Those caring for the sick need to be ministered to and supported as well. They need an outlet to cope with their own feelings as to what is happening to their loved ones and to be assured the church walks with them as does Jesus.”

Being a caregiver is stressful. “You get depressed. You get angry. And then you feel guilty about getting angry,” Warnock said.

In some cases, the caregiver role is thrust upon a person unexpectedly. One woman who came to two support group meetings talked about the stress of caring for her brother. She told the group, “My brother came to visit me. He had had surgery and wasn’t recuperating well, so he wound up staying with me.”

In most of the cases Warnock has seen, the caregiver is caring for an elderly relative, usually a mother or a father. While each situation is unique, there are common threads. “In a lot of families, even if there are a lot of kids, it’s usually one who does all the work taking care of mom,” she observed.

“That can lead to a lot of resentment,” she added.

Warnock never felt resentment, but she found caring for her husband to be exhausting due to his declining mobility.

Gerard Warnock suffered a back injury several years ago that started a downward trajectory in his life. 

“He had a bad back, and it slowly got worse. And then he had surgery. I don’t think it worked, and he wound up having more surgery in the same area of the back,” his wife recalled. “So whether they did more harm than good, I don’t know. All I know is that his back didn’t get better.” 

Her husband could feed and wash himself, but Warnock had to help him in and out of bed.

“For me, to get him to any doctor appointments was a major undertaking. We had to get a stretcher. I have a little flight of stairs to get into my house. So all those things were barriers for me to get him anywhere,” she explained.

She felt like she had nowhere to turn. 

“I wound up getting help for my husband through the Veterans Administration,” she said. “He was a veteran, and because of that, I was able to get him a wheelchair.”

Warnock, who has four children, said the time she spent caring for her husband was time she wasn’t spending with her kids. She recalled that a teacher once asked her 15-year-old daughter why her mother never attended school activities. 

“She told my daughter, ‘I’m sorry that your mother doesn’t bother coming.’ That really hurt. And it made my daughter feel really bad,” she recalled, still bristling at the memory. 

Through all of this, Warnock was also holding down a job. At the time, she worked for New York City in a youth intervention program. She would often arrive at work early so that she could leave early. “I would get home at 2 o’clock because I was more and more nervous about leaving my husband as he got worse and worse. I didn’t want to leave him alone,” she said.

Caregiving was nothing new for Warnock. She performed the same duties for her father years earlier, after he suffered a debilitating stroke.

When she was taking care of her father, the Family Medical Leave Act — the federal law requiring employers to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year to workers following the birth of a child or to take care of an ailing relative —  had not yet been enacted.

In the early 1990s, Warnock was among caregivers from across the country who traveled to Washington to meet with members of Congress to talk about the need for such legislation.

Congress passed the Family Medical Leave Act in 1993. 

“I was so happy when it finally passed,” she said. “It gives people peace of mind.”

One thought on “Group Shines Light on Challenges Of Caring for Elderly Relatives

  1. I totally understand the stress of caring for loved one along with a full time job and no home help. Caregivers need mental health and physical support perhaps from other caring family members. It is a hard task to do alone. I was able to be strong and get the fortitude from within myself with lots of prayers to stay healthy to be there always for the needs of my three loved ones, who are now in God’s grace.