Valentin and Ruby 1New Mexico caregiver Valentin Varela and his mother Ruby were selected by AARP for a special honor designed to highlight and showcase the work that unpaid family caregivers do across the country. In New Mexico 419,000 people provide care at any one time for a family member or other loved one.

In the last year AARP created the I Heart Caregiver website to honor family caregivers and to collect their stories.  Recently AARP asked caregivers to share a picture of them with the loved one they care for.

“To honor and showcase the millions of unsung caregivers—who we believe aren’t celebrated nearly enough – our national office then selected one entry from each state to be honored by having an original painting done from the picture,” said Beth Velasquez, AARP New Mexico Associate State Director.  “The Varelas were selected for this special recognition.”

As part of November’s National Caregiver Month, AARP recently unveiled the exhibit of the paintings of family caregivers and their loved ones from throughout the nation. The Exhibit, Portraits of Care: Family Caregivers Across the United States, was unveiled in a reception on Capitol Hill and then displayed in AARP’s National Office.

One of the challenges facing today’s caregivers is often one of distance and time. No one knows this better than Valentin, who helps care for his mother, who lives in Pecos, while he works and lives in Corrales.

Ruby is 93 years-old and still lives in the family home where she raised her nine children.  She was married to her husband Manuel for 63 years, who passed away in 2012. As Ruby has aged she has developed mobility and memory issues so her family ensures that she has constant companionship.  Still, she is in relatively good health with minimal health issues.

Now each Thursday, Valentin drives 100 miles to spend the night and all day Friday with his mother cooking her meals, helping her get dressed, managing her medications and other tasks.

The Varelas are lucky they have a large family that can help their mom. One brother, Peter, lives with Ruby and another sister lives nearby. The other siblings all take a day to stay with their mother.

“While spending time with my mother on a regular basis is a sacrifice of time available for other interests, that time is precious to me,” Valentin said. “I want her to be happy and comfortable in her home with people she loves for as long as she is alive.”

“My mother is the most loving person that I know. I thank God for her long life and the privilege to share time with her in which I can see her face and hear her voice. I love her dearly and cannot think of anything that is more important for me to do than return the love that she has given me over my 65 years of life,” Valentin said.

To learn more about how AARP is helping family caregivers visit www.aarp.org/iheartcaregivers

(Photo Ruby and Valentin with their special portrait.)