Just recently the three-month anniversary of my grandmother’s passing screamed at me from the calendar. As the days drag on and I find new ways to fill my time, I can’t help but think that self-employment is and has been my saving grace for the last four years and, thus, the greater part of my caregiving mission.
(DISCLAIMER: DON’T GET ME WRONG. I’m not advocating you go and quit your job right now. I’m not against having a job.)
When I decided to leave my job, I had already been caring for Grandma for three years. On top of that, I was responsible for another soul, Calvin.
I was barely paying my bills and, after a certain point, pretty miserable. One day, I had an epiphany. *Most* of my friends were people who USED to work at my office. One by one, they were all bailing to set out and find new adventures. The only thing that actually motivated me to get out of bed and go to work everyday was Douglas, the smokin’ hot man on the hill, who I was trying to lay the mack down on.
I’d see a template for a brochure being sold for $500 or someone selling a website for 3 Grand. I’d see opportunities everywhere, ones I couldn’t go for because I was full-time employed. (Also, just let me say: never work for a place that has public salaries.)
Even when I was working, I was constantly distracted by phone calls from Grandma or watching her on Nest if I knew she was by herself.
When I got home from work, I had to rush off to her house to make sure she was okay each evening (except Fridays, of course). On the weekends, I was out there with Grandma both days, cramming as much fun and TCB as possible into Saturday and Sunday, praying I’d have just a few hours for myself by Sunday evening.
It was no life at all.
The stress of working full time in a job I was no longer loving, taking care of Grandma, overseeing Calvin’s care, and managing my life had culminated and become too much to bear.
One morning I woke up and my toilet was clogged. As I sat there feeling panicked because I was already running late for work thanks to being overly tired, I realized I would rather deal with this disgusting toilet than go to the office. I knew it was time to make a change.
Plotting my Escape
I started putting together my escape plan. I laid out the pros and cons of leaving and staying.
Once it dawned on me that most successful people don’t just do *one thing*, I recognized that I had multiple skills and talents to capitalize on, that I embraced the idea of becoming my own boss. I listed every single way I could possibly think of to make money and occupy my time. I laid out all the things I was capable of, good at, and enjoyed doing.
In my plan, I would launch my own graphic and web design business. I was already doing that (and more) across multiple projects. I never worried about where my clients would come from. I had a plan for marketing and outreach if I needed to build my business. I planned to invest more energy in blogging here and explore the possibility of monetizing TakingCareofGrandma.com. I was also working on launching my family caregiver nonprofit, SandwichedKC, so I could have more time to focus on that. I came up with a list of side hustles I could do on a flexible basis, like Spanish interpreting, driving Uber, or picking online orders at Hy-Vee. I laid out what little assets I had in case all of that failed.
Then I figured… if all of that failed, I would just move in with Calvin or Grandma.
Calvin, the Catalyst
When Calvin was discharged from his final hospital stay on hospice, I took a huge leap of faith. I executed my plan. I invested in a small-scale home office and handed in my letter of resignation. I brought Calvin home and started working on my first client’s project. Grandma was still managing fairly well at the time, so she was able to get by with the help we had and a few extra check-ins.
I used what little cash money he had left to split up the 24-hour care with the girl who got the shaft when Calvin’s provider walked out on him. Thank God for Machon. We would have never survived that time without her.
Knowing that it was impossible for me to care for Calvin 24/7 and keep my eye on my grandma, I was working with his case manager to secure another provider, somewhat in denial about what hospice truly meant.
Three weeks later, Calvin passed away.
I saw him through, all the way to the end. Calvin was one of the closest people to me who had ever died. It is not easy, and not everyone can do it.
It took me almost two months to recover from the crippling sorrow and crazy waves of grief.
It would have been impossible for me to function at a job that way.
Besides, I still had Grandma to take care of!
But God, the calls just kept coming in. Once word got around that I had launched my own business, I had more than enough work on my hands. I’d already gotten a little help, but I knew I was going to need more if I was going to run my business and survive this experience mentally and emotionally intact.
At the peak of everything, I had three full days off every week and we even had help on the weekends so I could have a Sunday evening relaxation guarantee (without interference from complexity, of course). Grandma was doing well with this support, so I signed up for a volunteer job and even managed some out of town work.
Since I had been blogging and tweeting more with my freed up time, people were starting to notice me here at TakingCareofGrandma.com. I even made a rap video!
In one amazing week, I flew to Buffalo to speak about my caregiving journey and then flew to Wichita, Kansas, to photograph and record an event for a client.
Things were going so well. I had worked hard to get Grandma safe and occupied and to launch my business. I had money in the bank, I had free time, and I felt good. I was coasting.
The Beginning of the End
I don’t need to tell you the rest of my life story, but my mom passed away at the end of 2019, my grandma went home on hospice in January 2020, we moved into this house at the end of March that same year…….and then COVID shut the world down.
Lots of people’s lives were uprooted. I had been working from home and only leaving to care for my grandma otherwise, so not much changed for me in that respect.
My entire life turned upside down in a different way. I’d just lost my mom. My life as I knew it was completely different. I was getting used to sharing not just a home, but a life, with another person (and her caregivers, BTW) after being in my own place for so long was a huge adjustment for me. Thank God I was not expected to be on a clock or reporting to an office for eight hours a day.
Once we worked out our rhythm, things went swimmingly for about a year. By the middle of 2021, it was clear that Grandma was declining. By the fall, she was fading fast, and I lost my main source of help (9-5 Monday through Friday, y’all, I had it very good!). My workflow was down to a tiny trickle. By the new year, it had altogether halted. It was obvious at that point she was getting ready to say goodbye to us. I was not working at all at that point.
Once she passed away, I didn’t feel like doing much at all for a while.
I just don’t know how I could have gotten through all of that while being shackled to an employer.
Looking Back/Lessons Learned
I REPEAT: DON’T GET ME WRONG. I’m not advocating you go and quit your job right now. I’m not against having a job.
THINK LONG & HARD BEFORE YOU ACT.
If you’re unhappy, and you’re leaving, that’s one thing. Just make sure you have a plan.
It’s hard to make sound decisions when you are in a crisis. That was the whole point of my escape plan. I wanted to make sure I was putting all the thought and consideration I needed before I was ready to walk out the door. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t *just* my caregiving responsibilities that were creating the stress that made me want to quit my job.
Everyone has assets, talents, and skills they can exploit to make a living. Figure out what those are and run with it. It may be a combination of things. Remember, unless they have a brilliant idea for a patent or a millionaire investor, most successful people don’t just do one thing.
If you want to stay, but you’re not sure what your caregiving responsibilities will mean in terms of your job, talk to your boss. Make it blatantly clear that your immediate future is completely up in the air. Sometimes they don’t have a clue. They think you might actually be able to work from a hospital room or your loved one’s death bed. They might assume that you have the energy, bandwidth, and adequate sleep to perform your job while you are managing this complex and emotional experience. They might also think recovering from an illness or injury or dying doesn’t take too long, and they are probably underestimating the nature of the grief process, too. They probably have no idea, okay????
Don’t let your boss pressure you into some under the table agreement, because in reality, nobody knows just exactly what could happen or sometimes just exactly how long you will be unable to focus on your job. Get everything in writing.
DO YOUR RESEARCH.
By the by, FMLA is an unpaid, 12-week hold on your job. I wouldn’t bother with that if you’re not happy with your job, but if you want to keep your job, then by all means, go for it. Keep in mind, depending on your situation, you might max out on your FMLA AND you may not feel like going back to work then. Twelve weeks isn’t a very long time. If you use it all up and then your loved one needs you again, you might be in trouble.
If you see caregiving in your future or you see your loved one’s needs increasing soon, it may be worth looking into your employer’s policies. More and more everyday, employers are offering programs and assistance to their employees who are family caregivers to keep them on board.
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE INSURANCE!
If you don’t want to live dangerously like me, you need insurance. Find a way to get covered if you do decide to branch out on your own. If you can afford it, get accident insurance, too. Hell, just get insurance’d up, okay? (That was my grandma’s own personal philosophy in life 😉) You never know what might happen. If something happens to you, you may not be able to afford your care, your bills, and other expenses that may arise. Your loved one is depending on you.
MONEY IS LIQUID.
Cash comes and goes. It ebbs and flows. There is opportunity everywhere if you want to work hard. As long as you live within your means and stick to a budget, you will be okay. Find where you can cut back, even if it’s just temporarily, while you get yourself established. You may just find you can learn to live without (and you may even be happier for it!).
Dear caregiver, whatever you do, I’m rooting for you!