West Toledoan Susan Gaylord became a caregiver at the ripe old age of 3 when her younger sister, Patty, was born with Down Syndrome.
“I knew from the time she was a baby that Patty was special and we had to take special care of her,” Mrs. Gaylord said.
Although both her sister and her mother have passed way, Mrs. Gaylord still is taking care of people. She coordinates care for her 93-year-old father, who is nearly deaf and blind but still lives in his own home.
It’s an avocation that has earned Mrs. Gaylord an Elder Caregiver Award from the Ohio Department of Aging. She and five other Ohioans are to receive the awards Tuesday at a ceremony at the Ohio Statehouse Atrium.
“I guess it was born into me,” Mrs. Gaylord, 68, said.
“It wasn’t something I chose. It wasn’t something I would try to turn over to someone else, but I don’t necessarily feel I should get an award for doing what most people would do.”
The oldest of four children, she helped take care of her siblings as they were growing up, even dropping out of high school when her mother became ill after her youngest sister was born.
Her family was living in California at the time, far away from family members in Ohio.
“There was nobody else to do it,” she said simply.
She eventually returned to school, married her husband, David, had a successful video production company, and now enjoys her two grown children, grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter “who calls me grandma the great. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
About five years ago, her sister, Patty Train, developed Parkinson’s disease, and Mrs. Gaylord helped care for her and their mother, Virginia Train, who had Alzheimer’s disease.
She was at their home nearly every day for two years, bringing them dinner, helping to feed them, giving them medication, and getting them ready for bed. She said she still misses Patty, who died at Hospice of Northwest Ohio three years ago.
Their mother died four months later, after suffering a stroke.
Although family has always come first, Mrs. Gaylord has cared for others along the way. After an elderly neighbor with no family moved in next door to the Gaylords, he developed diabetes and then Parkinson’s disease and couldn’t give himself shots.
“I had to learn to give shots,” she said. “I just think I attract people who need help, and that’s fine.”
Now, Mrs. Gaylord spends time with her father, Frank Train, at his Temperance home, coordinating home health aides and making sure his daily needs are met. She insists anyone would do the same.
“I have a very deep faith, and I don’t want it to sound corny, but God lets me know what I should be doing,” Mrs. Gaylord said. “I pray about it and He answers me, and every once in while He’ll tell me to do something and I’ll say, ‘Are you kidding?’?”
She laughed but added, “Just because I have done these things doesn’t mean I necessarily looked forward to it or didn’t want to run screaming down the street. … You’ve got to have a sense of humor or don’t try to be a caregiver because it doesn’t work if you can’t laugh.”