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How to recognize and retain rock star caregivers (a personal story)

As with teachers, doctors, and coaches, some caregivers are more effective than others. And while winning the most games may elevate you to Coach Hall of Fame status, it is the coaches who take the extra time to empower, inspire and motivate that kids will forever remember. Having that dependable, positive influence on their lives—if only for a few years—helps shape how they feel about themselves and what they think they can achieve and ultimately become.

While caregivers most often care for people in the final quarter of their lives, they can still have tremendous impacts on the person’s feelings, ambitions and emotional health and well-being. One of our most beloved caregivers was an energetic eighteen-year-old named Trisha (name changed for privacy). I will admit that my family and I were a bit concerned upon meeting her—she had a lovely demeanor but weighed about one hundred pounds soaking wet. Could she handle the physical aspects of moving our mother on the lift? The majority of caregivers we had employed the past seven years were not what would be considered thin. We loved her attitude, but would this work out?

It did—beyond measure. Trisha had strength, grit, determination and incredible loyalty. She was with us the last four years of our mother’s life, through the most challenging times we had ever experienced. She was timely, organized and efficient—that was a given. But she was also patient, kind, and motivating. She was an eager listener which was perfect for my mom, who loved to tell stories. Sometimes, when Trisha had a break in shifts, rather than driving home and back she would stay with Mom and watch one of her favorite tv shows or a movie they both liked. Trisha was a light in our mother’s life, a face she looked forward to seeing the four or five days a week Trisha came over. The feeling was reciprocal.

We rewarded Trisha by paying her significantly more than an agency would and giving her Christmas bonuses to help with her nursing school loans. Working at an agency she would receive roughly twelve dollars an hour, after taxes. We paid her twenty. If you are able to do so, paying out a bit more to non-agency caregivers is a great way to retain and recognize rock star caregivers. And whether or not they are associated with agency, there are plenty of other things you can do to recognize them. Try inviting them over for a homecooked birthday dinner, or taking them to their favorite restaurant, or maybe even a concert. Surprise them with a flower bouquet. Write them a handwritten thank-you note, or make a photo collage. My friend Sarah took her mom and her beloved caregiver, Marie, to see Elton John in Detroit. The tickets were expensive, and they had many logistical challenges in getting there (physically and emotionally, given the Alzheimer’s), but her mother’s life was winding down. It was worth it—Sarah said she had never seen her mother or Marie happier.

Keep your best caregivers close to your hearts. Recognize them. Cherish them. Make them part of your family. For many, they will be. When our mother died, she left some money in the will for Trisha to finish school. Although Trisha was devastated for months and months, she worked hard and earned her nursing degree. My sister and her family still have Trisha over for dinner, and she has even babysat my young nephews. Our mother would be proud. Trisha is going to make one hell of a nurse.

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