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Caregiving Can Tie Families in Knots, SD Union Tribune

When she was growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, Cheryl Jarvis said hers was a typical Southern California family, with a bungalow blocks from the water in Pacific Beach and afternoons spent playing in the sand and waterskiing on Mission Bay.

Many nights, when her father got home from his civil service job at North Island, the family — dad, mom, three daughters and a beagle mix named Taco — would hit the beach for a barbecue.

Think Norman Rockwell portrait, but sun-kissed. Or, as Jarvis, now 67, puts it, “We were ‘Leave It to Beaver.’” As the years have passed, that tableau has become markedly less sunny but no less typical of what many families go through. There has been loss, estrangement and the heartbreak of caring for an elderly parent with a crippling disease.

In fact, the family picture painted today by Jarvis, the primary caregiver for her mother, Reva Randall, 86, who has dementia, will sound distressingly familiar to many of the estimated 650,000 family caregivers in San Diego County. The sacrifice and stress, the isolation and strained family relations.

Jarvis, the eldest daughter, moved back into the family home to care for her mother, whose dementia diagnosis came not long after her husband died in 2005. Except for the few hours a week when Jarvis teaches Bible class or attends support group meetings, she is a full-time, day-to-day caregiver, with all of the physical and emotional hardship that entails.

She gets support from her middle sister, Gladys Smith, 66, who handles their mother’s finances and occasionally watches Randall. But Jarvis said their youngest sibling is MIA when it comes to mom’s care. Jarvis said other close family members also haven’t stepped up to help. One relative’s reason?

“He said the traffic in Pacific Beach was too much,” Jarvis said. “Can you believe that?”

Those who would believe that are eldercare experts who say that if family dynamics can be challenging in normal times, caregiving can often stir up old tensions, create new frictions and fracture relations beyond repair. And while every family situation is unique, they say patterns generally emerge, mainly sibling rivalries resurfacing and disagreements erupting over a parent’s care or the family’s finances.

(Click here to read the full article, written by Michelle Parente, SD Union Tribune)