National Caregiver Day: Sharing the real story of an unpaid caregiver
When Ralda Singleton’s son Stephen was born 45 years ago, her journey in motherhood began, and she also started learning how to be a fearless caregiver and advocate.
Ralda is just one of an estimated 8.1 million extraordinary unpaid caregivers across the country. Each year in April, National Caregiver Day celebrates and recognizes the important role of unpaid caregivers, those caring for loved ones with living with chronic illness, disability, or disease across Canada. Unpaid caregivers are the unsung heroes of our health system, but at VHA Home HealthCare (VHA), the bonds built with families and caregivers are especially strong as home care brings the loved ones of our clients into the circle of care and into decision making to make care even better.
Ralda’s son has autism. Now that he is an adult, Ralda says he is very independent but requires assistance with daily tasks. When Stephen was in a car accident later in life, he began having seizures and now lives with diabetes, so he needs home health care and Ralda’s support to continue living in their Toronto home.
“I’ll never forget being told when Stephen was three years old that he’d never be able to walk or talk and that he should live in an institution for the rest of his life. Autism wasn’t even a household word at the time.” Ralda reflects. “I’ve fought for him his entire life.”
For Ralda, advocating for Stephen’s care is just one important piece of being a caregiver. It’s also about understanding his daily routines and knowing when he needs something even when he doesn’t vocalize it.
“Is he feeling good? I have to look for the signs. It’s a 24/7 job, even when he’s asleep,” says Ralda, who is Stephen’s primary caregiver, as the rest of their family lives in Trinidad.
But despite the impact that caring for a child with complex medical needs has had on Ralda’s life, it’s of course incredibly rewarding and the two of them have built a very close bond. Ralda has made sure they have had a lot of fun along the way, too. Ralda has also become involved with VHA as a Client Partner helping to make care better for everyone.
When asked if there was anything she’d like more people to know about unpaid caregivers, she had some words of wisdom to share for people on National Caregiver Day:
“I want people to understand the importance of caregivers. We don’t have a lot of free time. The most challenging part is worrying about Stephen when I’m not there,” says Ralda.
“Being a caregiver is tough, but it’s a loving toughness,” she adds. “My caregiving journey is ongoing.”