APEX, N.C. — Kathy Montero often hands out personalized business cards with a three-sentence message:”My loved one has Alzheimer’s disease and is hard of hearing. Please be patient and speak loudly. Thank you for making a positive difference.
“The loved one is her father, Gary Hoadley. Montero moved her parents, Gary and Juanita, to North Carolina from Indiana after Gary’s progressing Alzheimer’s proved to be too much of an obstacle for him to care for himself and his wife, who had suffered a major stroke years ago.
It’s not her first foray into caring for a loved one. Her father-in-law Antonio’s hospital stay about four years ago made it clear to Kathy and her husband, Gabriel, that his parents couldn’t care for themselves.Gabriel’s mother Maria, now 85, also has Alzheimer’s and her worsening conditioning led them to move her to an assisted living memory care unit. Antonio’s cancer progressed and he ended up moving in with the Monteros.
“I can’t imagine being sick yourself and then trying to care for a spouse with Alzheimer’s,” Kathy said of her father-in-law.
Space was cramped, with Antonio sharing a bathroom with Kathy’s teenage son, Logan, and the Monteros’ daughter, Arianna. Meanwhile, the Monteros were also assisting with the costs of having Kathy’s parents living in an independent living community.
But the daily trips to check in on Kathy’s parents and the financial burden proved too much. So when an empty lot across the street became available, the Monteros decided to sell their house and build a care-friendly home and move Gary in with them, too.
“My parents’ money had run out,” Kathy said. “This was kind of, as our financial adviser said, ‘our least bad option’ to build a house and move my dad in with us.”
Before the home was complete, her father-in-law Antonio succumbed to cancer in November 2014. He was 82.
“We cared for him until he passed away, which wound up being a very beautiful experience,” Kathy said.
Just more than a year later, Gary moved in with the Monteros, with his wife in an assisted living facility three miles up the road.
Giving Gary, 71, structure and things to do “keeps him out of trouble,” Kathy said. He visits Juanita often, spending a couple hours with her at a time, and he walks with Kathy to pick up 7-year-old Arianna at the bus stop each school day.
Kathy, 48, said there are similarities between raising children and caring for a parent — something more and more families are doing.
“Things are always changing,” she said. “With a child, there are different phases they go through — you always have to shift and change your needs when caring for a child and it’s the same with the parent.”
On top of the care and financial burden, Kathy said it can put a strain on her family and marriage.
“Does our relationship take a hit because we invest so much of ourselves into our parents? Yes,” Kathy said of her marriage. “For us to even go on a date, we don’t just have to get a babysitter, we’ve got to find somebody who can be a caregiver, watch my dad and our 7-year-old.
“But I also think it has made us closer in that there’s a greater respect for one another,” she added. “That we’ve each, in different times, had to step up and do this and take this on. And I think that just makes me love him even more, that he wanted to do this for his family.”
With both of their mothers in care facilities and Gary living with them, they have had to make financial and personal sacrifices. Family vacations and nights out are often eschewed because of the Monteros’ responsibilities. But the things they miss out — Arianna has mentioned not yet going to Disney World — are replaced with memories and life lessons.
“I think we’re teaching our kids about family,” Kathy said. “Sometimes we have to make sure we take time out to do stuff with them, just us, but I think we’re only enhancing their lives.”
Despite previously working in the health care field and even donating her time to Center for Volunteer Caregiving — giving respite care or taking people to medical appointments — Kathy said she wasn’t prepared for the realities of taking in a loved one.
“It’s certainly helped to know what resources are out there,” she said. “Because I had a background in health care I thought I knew what I was doing. And I learned we did not know what we did not know. So one of the things I feel strongly about now is for anyone who starts on this journey is start early, invest in a good geriatric care manager.”
A care manager can help with the numerous aspects of caring for someone: understanding insurance, keeping up with technology or finding support groups. The Monteros have even utilized the services provided by Center for Volunteer Caregiving, the organization where Kathy used to volunteer.
Through it all, Kathy and her family have found a way to make it work.
“One of the things I had to learn from this is that I don’t think anybody’s life turns out the way they had planned,” she said. “I don’t care what the circumstances are — we all have dreams and aspirations, and I look around and most people aren’t doing what they thought they’d be doing. Your career, family doesn’t work out the way you thought it was going to, whatever.
“But the secret to happiness is to accept where you are and just find joy in that.”