WINCHESTER — Aaron Blight was just 29 years old and the father of three young children when his mother-in-law came to live with his family.
Surgery to remove a brain tumor had left her weak, and she needed someone to help her through the subsequent surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy. Helping to care for his mother-in-law for the nearly the two years she lived in his house was difficult, he said. Even after she moved out, her mind continued to deteriorate, and Blight or his wife was constantly being called to her apartment to fix something in her home, give her a ride or even pick her up off the floor.
Attending to a child’s needs feels right. But taking care of another adult can sometimes stir feelings of shame, resentment, self-pity and anger.
“I honestly didn’t know what was going on or why it was so hard on me,” Blight said of his experience of caring for his mother-in-law.
To help other caregivers who may struggle with the same emotions, Blight has written “When Caregiving Calls,” a primer on how to navigate a life experience that can be physically and emotionally draining — but also rewarding and life-affirming as Blight discovered.
Published by Rivertowns Books, “When Caregiving Calls” is available at the Winchester Book Gallery on the Loudoun Street Mall and online booksellers. Blight will sign copies of his book from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14 at the Winchester Book Gallery, 7 N. Loudoun St.
“It’s something that I felt compelled to write,” said Blight, now in his early 50s. “I just wanted to help people.”
Blight’s personal experiences give the book its humanity, but it’s his professional expertise and educational background that give it authority.
Blight spent the first part of his career writing national healthcare policy for a federal agency. After leaving the government, he earned his doctoral degree in caregiving and became the owner of the local franchise of Home Instead Senior Care, where he hired hundreds of caregivers to assist thousands of families in caring for their loved ones.
He sold Home Instead Senior Care in 2017 and now works as a public speaker on caregiving issues and as an adjunct professor at Shenandoah University, where he teaches Aging and Public Health as well as Healthcare Management.
In short, easy-to-read chapters “When Caregiving Calls” delves into such subjects as time management, loneliness and stress.
Each chapter ends with several questions that he hopes caregivers will spend some time reflecting on and answering. The book can also be used with support groups, with the questions to jump start discussions.
Taking time to write out answers to the questions is key to getting the full benefit of the book, Blight said. “Intentional reflection is a key component of transformational learning,” he said.
An estimated 1 in 5 adults will serve as caregivers to another adult during their lifetime. They need help and resources, Blight said, who wrote “When Caregiving Calls” to make sure caregivers didn’t feel so alone.
The book also explains the differences between assisted living, skilled nursing, independent living and continuing care retirement communities for those seeking guidance on long-term care facilities.
In addition to several personal stories, the book contains practical advice, such as recommending caregivers check out the curriculum in a certified nursing assistant course. CNAs are on the frontlines of caregiving and their coursework teaches them how to give a bed bath, transfer someone from the bed to a wheelchair, take vital signs and protect people from falling and hurting themselves.
“Caregiving will teach you things you never knew — and perhaps never wanted to know — about the human body,” Blight writes in the book.
But it’s not just the physical stress — the lifting, the bathing, the dressing — that make caregiving difficult. Caregiving can also take a toll on relationships, not only between the caregiver and the one being cared for but among siblings who squabble about sharing duties or with other family members who resent the attention being paid to the care receiver.
Blight especially feels sympathy for people who are caring for someone they harbor hard feelings about, such as an adult child who felt neglected by their parent when they were younger. Days filled with resentment can feel particularly long.
Caregiving is a selfless act, Blight said, whether it’s done out of love or out of obligation. It’s this extension of oneself, particularly with end-of-life care, that makes for profound growth.
“Caregiving makes us better people,” he said. “The very essence of a caregiver is selflessness. It teaches us what it’s like to be human and what it means to be vulnerable.”