We Are All in the Same Caregiving Ship

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We Are All in the Same Caregiving Ship

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While in the midst of caregiving for Richard, I was often asked, “Are there really any differences for same-sex couples when it comes to caregiving?" I would always nod politely and respond with a question, ”No, not really. Don’t we all just want to simply care for the one we love?”  

More on this conversation in a minute. 

For everyone, caregiving is often an unplanned event. No one I've met in my ten years of being involved in the vast network of family caregivers has had caregiving on their bucket list. Whether it be an untimely diagnosis or an unfortunate accident, suddenly you become a caregiver. Caregiving also happens slowly over time. Which ever way it happens, this new role can throw you off balance in all aspects of your life. 

Furthermore, caregiving is indiscriminate. There are no gender boundaries, no economic boundaries, no racial boundaries, and no orientation boundaries. Caregiving impacts everyone! I’m not aware of any other social, physical, emotional, or financial issue that can bind people from diverse background and beliefs than being a family caregiver because we all just want to care for the one we love…right?  

All families face the same struggles in trying to find just the right time to “have the talk” about advance directives, end-of-life planning, and care wishes. Heck! I know couples in the LGBT community who can recite their spouse’s (or partner’s) precise pour for their martini but don't have a clue what their spouse's wishes are for long-term care or the end of life. The same can be said for straight and unmarried couples, too.  

I’m not naïve. I know firsthand caregiving is different for same-sex couples. I originally wrote about this topic back in 2012 in What's Different about LGBT Caregiving. Same sex couples have always known a marriage license is not needed to solidify love. While marriage equality has leveled the legal playing field, this license doesn't solidify equal rights. Bigotry and hatred, unfortunately, will always surround us, yet the “license” provides clear legal protection to all married couples--just as having all our legal documents in place will do for each one of us, too.

Once you’ve been asked Who are you? And why are you here? by medical staff or been denied the right to be with the one you love at the time of their death, only then can you fully grasp the meaning of marriage. Everywhere I went with Richard I carried our green folder with us. Enclosed were all of our important legal documents just in case my role as his caregiver (and life partner) was ever questioned by suspecting medical or legal personnel.

Yes, there are differences LGBT caregivers face. The differences may be subtle to some, important to others, and perhaps even mind-boggling, yet they are fixable. While it is reported that LGBT seniors are more likely to live alone and less likely to access medical services in fear discrimination, there are many straight seniors out there who live alone, need transportation, and fear going to the doctor.  

We are all in the same caregiving ship, trying to row upstream in a wave that sometimes makes it difficult to navigate. While systems and people might treat LGBT caregivers differently, there is no doubt that love, care, and commitment is the same for any two people--no matter what system you have to use, one's gender or sexual orientation, or who you travel with on your caregiving journey. Because in the end, love always wins.

P.S. If you have not had your legal documents reviewed by your attorney in the past two years, now is the time to do it! Pick up the phone, call your attorney, and update your documents. It is the right thing to do!

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