Meet a Caregiving.com Member: Gary Presto

Marianne

Meet a Caregiving.com Member: Gary Presto

Marianne
(Editor’s Note: We’re proud to feature Gary (aka @gary) as part of our special series, Meet a Caregiving.com Member. Gary has been a part of our community for just about 10 years and was one of our very first bloggers, beginning his blog in 2009. On a regular basis, we’ll introduce you to a member of our wonderful community. Not a member yet? Create your free Caregiving.com account and join us.)

As so often happens, it was a family crisis that brought Gary Presto home to Boston again.

When his dad was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2003, Gary temporarily moved back into the bedroom in the house where he grew up. He would soon move to his own place close by, but regardless of where he called home, Gary had set out on a new, eye-opening “odyssey.”

Gary Presto Gary Presto


He also had the chance to get acquainted with the parents he loved as “the people and individuals they are, not just in the ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ roles I knew them while I was a kid.” It was a pleasant surprise in the midst of physical and mental exhaustion.

As a person who prides himself on his personal independence, Gary found juggling the duties of a family caregiver overwhelming.

“Chaos is the ‘normal’ inherent nature of caregiving,” he observes. “Nobody trains us for this, and it doesn’t happen the way you expect it.” It’s important, he insists, to forgive yourself for “feeling overwhelmed, afraid, clumsy, tired and disorganized.”

He confesses that the occasional glass of red wine helps too.

Gary also realized he’d never understood how much his mother depended on his late father for many practical tasks around the house. A lifelong renter by choice, Gary found himself enrolled in a crash course on home maintenance, heating costs, tax bills and more.

Clearly a thoughtful person, Gary believes the act of family caregiving is a great equalizer in a nation often sharply divided by politics, class and race.

A 2013 study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life project found that four in 10 adults are now serving in the role of family caregiver. (Those numbers are up from 30% in 2010.) Nearly half of those surveyed said they expect to care for a parent or other relative at some point in their life.

But as Gary points out, all too often family caregivers function invisibly, although their presence cuts across all social strata. And there’s shockingly little conversation about how to support their critical work with chronically or terminally ill family members and friends.

“Caregivers deserve the right to be able to be happy, hold jobs, have health insurance, support themselves financially, have a roof over their heads, be part of relationships, be healthy, and enjoy life, too,” says Gary.  “This ‘second job’ of ours doesn't have set hours or pay .... Our quality of life and concerns should not be marginalized.”

That’s why an organization like Caregiving.com is invaluable. The website is available 24/7, whenever a family caregiver has a few free minutes to sit down at a computer or tablet and is wrestling with a problem or just wants to feel a little less alone.

Gary so strongly believes Caregiving.com is the best online gathering of resources and support for family caregivers that he widely recommends it, especially to his cohorts and fellow alumni at the gerontology program at the University of Massachusetts, where Gary has earned a Certificate of Graduate Studies in Gerontology – Aging Services Management.

He’s found a kind of second home here as he’s gained the technical know-how and expertise necessary to advocate on behalf of family caregivers and their carees. Gary’s also taken some comfort in finding validation in his own experience with his mom and dad. Yes, it’s been hard work. But there has also been joy, and a sense of rightness, in this new role he’s taken with his parents.

“Caregiving and aging aren’t ‘final’ stages in life,” Gary says, “they are simply next phases in the spectrum of living that I believe are as equally important and interconnected as those younger stages of our life.” There’s wisdom that comes with the years, he thinks, providing a perspective that only comes with the benefit of hindsight.

So Gary’s practical advice for new family caregivers has been gleaned from his own life. Take time for yourself. Trust that things will somehow work themselves out. Constant vigilance and anxiety – “being on watch every single second” – is the perfect recipe for burnout.

“And then,” Gary says succinctly, “you’ll be of no good to anybody else.”

As for Gary’s mom Dottie, she’s just moved into her new senior-residence apartment. She’s “thriving,” Gary is happy to report. Dottie’s warm smile is ample evidence of that.

Dottie Presto relaxing at home in her new senior-resident apartment Dottie Presto relaxing at home in her new senior-resident apartment

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bootsie

Great story! Thanks so much for sharing!

Denise

Gosh, I love this profile! I love the photos, too. Just terrific. Thank you so much <a href='http://www.caregiving.com/members/gary/' rel=\"nofollow\">@gary</a> for sharing your story. It's been such an honor to know you. :)