During November, National Caregiving Month, AARP gathered stories from caregivers throughout Alabama, and we would like to share Connie Walden's story with you.
Connie Walden was like anyone who had worked a long and successful career; she visualized a retirement filled with fun and leisure activities.
“I dreamed of far-away places…and planned to travel a lot,” she said.
Walden’s retirement has taken a much different path. She and her husband Pete are among the 850,000-plus Alabamians who are caring for loved ones. Her situation is complicated by being part of what is called the “sandwich generation,” or someone caring for generations on either side. In Connie’s case, she and Pete both care for their mothers, while at the same time, having custody of two of their adolescent grandchildren.
Walden said her plans for retirement changed about nine and-a-half years ago, and about two months before she retired.
“When my son and his wife could no longer care for the children properly, they came to live with us. At that time, Pete and I were a two-person household. I was still working in Montgomery, so it was a little difficult, but Pete had responsibility for the children during the week. I went home every Friday and was with them on the weekends,” Connie said.
As Connie settled into retirement, her mother’s health began to decline, and when she broke a hip, full-time, in-home care was required.
“I am very fortunate. My father saved and invested for this, and my brother Johnny shares half, if not more, of the responsibility for my mother. However, it is a very expensive endeavor and the money won’t last forever. She is 92 and has been completely bedridden for five years. I’m not sure how much longer we can afford this level of care,” Connie said.
Pete’s story is somewhat different. His mother and father built a house on the far corner of the Walden’s three acres after they retired. Pete’s mother continued living in the house alone after his father passed away.
“By being so close, Pete was able to check on her several times a day, and we had an electronic monitor. When she fell the first time, we heard it on the monitor, and he was able to get to her in a matter of minutes. However, that marked the end of her living alone,” Connie said.
Since that fall two years ago, Pete has lived with his mother, who is 98 and now suffering from dementia, full-time.
While some might see their situation as difficult, Connie’s vivacious, engaging, optimistic personality takes over.
“I guess I get so much joy from having my grandchildren living with me, I have never thought of it as being a caregiver. I feel as though I have been given a gift instead of a burden,” she said.
“To me, there was never a question about any of this. In any family, there comes a time when you do what you have to do. Simple as that,” Walden said.