Caregiver Spotlight – Laura Fraker

Did you know that 41.8 million American adults are providing unpaid care for aging loved ones? That’s nearly 17% of us. I know I’m preaching to the choir when I say this, but caregiving is hard work. Having said that, it can also be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. Every caregiving experience is different, that was certainly the case for me, and I think the biggest difference-maker in a caregiving experience is the support system you create for yourself. Support comes in all shapes and sizes. You get support from your care team – doctors, family, maybe paid caregivers, and other service providers (for more info on that circle back to episode 29), you might have support from community service organizations like meals on wheels, or maybe you belong to a support group or online community. For me, one of the most important supports I had in place, was the presence of close friends. I was very lucky to have a great support system through each of my caregiving experiences. My guest today was a big part of that support system and now is taking a caregiving journey of her own. Listen to episode 39 here or keep scrolling for the full transcript below.

My Guest

My guest for this episode is Laura Fraker. She’s my best friend and soul sister ???? and I’m so excited to share her with you today! Laura and her husband Ed, both retired, are caring for their parents and are experiencing first-hand the challenges that caregiving brings. Anyone who is a caregiver themselves will relate to this conversation!

My High Five to Laura ????

Laura emphasizes the importance of good self-care to stay at the top of your game. For her, that means regular walks, healthy food, and time with special people. This is a point that is often missed by many caregivers because it can feel impossible to fit it in. It’s worth it though, and you are worth it! Thanks for the great reminder, Laura!

Thanks for listening!

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Caregiver Spotlight – Laura Fraker

Recorded 1/18/21


Liz Craven, Laura Fraker

Liz Craven  00:00

The Sage Aging podcast is brought to you by Polk elder care guide your guide to all things senior care and resources. Find the 2021 guide in English and Spanish at

Liz Craven  00:26

Welcome to the sage aging podcast. I’m your host, Liz Craven. Sage aging will connect you to information and resources that will empower you to master the aging and caregiving journey. Weekly, I’ll bring you education, inspiration, amazing industry guests and caregiver spotlights to shed some light on topics of aging. There’ll even be some freebies and giveaways too. So grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and relax as we chat. Are you ready? Hit subscribe now and let’s get started.

Liz Craven  01:03

Hello, and welcome to Episode 39 of the Sage Aging podcast. Did you know that 41 point 8 million American adults are providing unpaid care for an aging loved one. That’s nearly 17% of us. Now I know that I’m preaching to the choir when I say this, but caregiving is hard work. Having said that, it can also be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. Every caregiving experience is different. And that was certainly the case for me. And I think the biggest difference maker in a caregiving experience is the support system that you create for yourself. Support comes in all shapes and sizes, you can get support from your care team, like your doctor’s, your family, maybe some paid caregivers and other service providers. If you want more information on that circle back to Episode 29. And we talked a lot about that in that episode. You might have support from community service organizations like Meals on Wheels, or maybe you belong to a support group or an online community. For me, one of the most important supports I had in place was the presence of close friends. I was really lucky to have a great support system through each of my caregiving experiences. And my guest today was a really big part of that support system. And now she’s taking a caregiving journey of her own. When I think of how she supported me when I was a caregiver, it brings to mind a quote from Helen Keller. The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart. She was ever present for me in every way that I needed her to be. Sometimes that required a physical presence. But sometimes what I needed was a quiet distance with the assurance that the support was there. And she delivered on all fronts now. I’m returning the favor for her. My guest today is Laura Fraker. She’s my best friend, my soul sister, and I’m so excited to share her with you today. Laura and her husband, Ed, both retired, are caring for their parents, and are experiencing firsthand the challenges that caregiving brings. When you’re a caregiver, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. So on a regular basis, I’ll be introducing you to other caregivers on the show. It’s my hope that the beautiful people and their stories that I share with you on sage aging will provide you with some encouragement, inspiration, and most importantly, an an assurance that you’re not alone. So without further ado, I bring you Laura Fraker. Welcome to the show, Laura.

Laura Fraker  03:51

Thank you. Oh, my gosh, she got me right in the heart. I’m tearing up over here. Yes, we have been besties for a long time. And we have been through a lot together. But it’s been one of the greatest blessings in my life

Liz Craven  04:05

And mine. Gosh, it has been a long time it’s been let’s see. 20, almost 27 years.

Laura Fraker  04:12

Mm hmm. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Liz Craven  04:16

We’ve seen it all but oh my goodness to have someone like you to link arms with and walk through life has been so incredible. And I just thank God every day for you.

Laura Fraker  04:27

Me too.

Liz Craven  04:28

Absolutely. Well, gosh, you know, it was always me who was leaning on you…

Laura Fraker  04:35

Oh I don’t know about that. I don’t know about that. I think it kind of went both ways.

Liz Craven  04:40

Truly. But Gosh, for us, Wes and I have spent, except for the last couple of years, it was it was about 10 or 11 years I spent in our caregiving journey between all of our parents and that was a rough road. You know, so many good things happened during that timeframe. But also so many scary things. The unknown and especially, you know, even when you have the information, when it’s your own journey and when you are the caregiver and you’re emotionally invested, things are very different.

Laura Fraker  05:15

I know you guys learned so much through your time as caregivers, and I’m, kind of right there myself right now I’m learning.

Liz Craven  05:24

Well, that’s what it’s all about. And I think that’s an important point to make is that there’s no such thing as perfection. It, there is not ever a time that you have to worry about that. It’s about just bringing the best of you that you can, in any given moment, to the person that you’re caring for. And some days, you’re bringing more than others. And it’s okay.

Laura Fraker  05:47

Yeah, when you have that perfectionist personality, and you want to get it right the first time, I have had to learn to be gentle with myself. And to know that if I made maybe not a good so good decision that I look back and realize I made the best decision I could with the information I had at the time. And place. It’s just, you know, I go on, and no, if I have that opportunity again, I might choose differently.

Liz Craven  06:10

Absolutely. Well, before we really jump into talking about caregiving, why don’t you give us a peek into the life of the Frakers?

Laura Fraker  06:20

Oh my gosh, I totally hit the jackpot when it came to parents. My mom and dad are just wonderful in so many ways. And I had an ideal childhood growing up in Lakeland with, we moved here when I was four years old. My dad was the YMCA director. And so I grew up at Camp it was doesn’t get much cooler than that, right? My mom was an elementary school teacher. So I had great educational opportunities. And they were just very devoted parents. And we had a ton of fun together. It was it was it was really good. It was really good. I grew up in the church. And you know, that was a wonderful foundation for my life. And but I ended up leaving Lakeland after adulthood for a number of years, and then just recently moved back with my new husband. For the primary purpose of being closer to my parents, because they are now getting older, they made some amazingly good decisions that have made my life and my brother’s life so much easier. They moved into a wonderful the Estates at Carpenters is a long term care facility, life facility, and they’re in the they’re still in the independent living area. And they just it’s been a great experience for them to give up the house with all of the responsibilities and expenses of running a home to you know, and they shed a lot of the stuff that you know, normal kids have to do for their parents. So it was nice to have that done for us. And yeah, so Life is good.

Liz Craven  07:53

That is so amazing. You are very lucky in how they prepared for later years. Because it can be quite a different experience. When you don’t have the preparation in place. And my mom was a good example of that one. That was rough to really shift gears quickly and get things into place when she was diagnosed with cancer. And that’s one thing as I look back on that, I wish I would have pushed harder before she got sick for her to get her things in order. It’s something we had talked about, right? She was 68. So she didn’t she expected that she had more years to get those things together and to watch her when she wasn’t feeling well. And feeling the effects of chemo and all that good stuff that she had to worry about that stuff was was terrible.

Laura Fraker  08:47

Absolutely, and your mom was so young. Yeah,

Liz Craven  08:52

She was way too young. So your parents are living at the estates at carpenters, which is an amazing place. That is, for those of you who don’t know is a continuing care retirement community. That’s known as a ccrc. This is a great teaching moment!

Laura Fraker  09:09

I couldn’t remember what to call it.

Liz Craven  09:11

Most people don’t it’s not a it’s not a commonly said phrase. You don’t hear it around, you just hear the name of the place but but basically, a person can move into a ccrc in the independent stage and they have a community that is built around caring for them for the rest of their life. So they transition from independent, to assisted and then on through nursing care if that’s what they need, whatever the person’s needs are who’s living there, they take care of it all. So your parents will not have to worry about moving to another facility off site. They, they’re home and that is a really terrific option for people who have the means to do that, and who want that seamless transition through that time of life.,


Right. Everything’s familiar, the all of the caregivers are familiar. And that’s definitely a blessing.

Liz Craven  10:09

Yes, we will definitely be doing a show all about ccrcs. And what that means and kind of walk through what that experience would be for a person. So stay tuned for that. I’ve got somebody on tap for that already. And I think that’s coming in March. So keep an eye out for that one. But so going back to your parents, things are a little different now. Right? Because your dad, and I gotta say, Laura’s dad is amazing. Her parents are both amazing. But I know exactly where Laura got that big heart from, because her dad is probably the most gentle kind person I’ve ever met in my entire life.

Laura Fraker  10:53

Me too.

Liz Craven  10:55

You’re at a close second.  And he has the warmest smile and the kindness eyes and what a beautiful person he is. And how lucky are you to have him as a dad?

Laura Fraker  11:08

When he talks to you, you feel like you are the center of the universe. Yeah. And he’s Normally he grabs your hand, grabs your shoulder grabs your forearm, and you mean, you know that he’s totally focused on you, and what a wonderful life skill that is for a gift for people that that get to know him. But as a minister, and a YMCA director, he just has a lifetime of people that he has touched their hearts. And so he deserves a wonderful retirement experience. And they have had a great, they’re in their mid 80s. Now, and they’re definitely slowing down. I mean, he was always larger than life for me. I mean, he was tall, he was strong, he could do anything, he was my Superman. So it’s been hard to watch them not be able to do the things he’s frustrated that he can’t do all the physical things that he used to do, he wants to come in and work in my flower beds, I’m like, Dad, come on, you’re gonna get hurt. But he just he loves to go go go. And he has slowed down quite a bit, as my mom has, she has had been diagnosed with vascular dementia. And so it’s been over the last, I don’t know, two years or so that my dad and I, and my other family members, my brother have begin to notice signs of that dementia. And it’s been hard. And it’s been frustrating and scary. And I’ve had to search out information, whether it was going to Google and reading and reading and reading and the AARP website has been really helpful. But in the time of COVID, the traditional support groups and places that you might have gone, you know, the church groups that my parents were members of that were so supportive, the ministers mates, and his gentlemen that he used to hang out with, and that were his best friends and his resources of support, have kind of gone away. So it’s been kind of a scramble to find new ways to keep them engaged and to, to find new ways for them, you know, to be supported.

Liz Craven  13:08

That has been really difficult because where they live, you’re not able to go in. And so you can’t go to their home and set up their computers the way that they should be, and teach them and handhold them through using them. So it really takes that technology piece away. Right? the saving grace is that they’ve been able to leave there so right can come to you, and thankfully are still physically able to do that so that they can come to your home and watch church services online and be able to engage that way.

Laura Fraker  13:42

Yeah, it’s hard when mom loses her glasses or her her keys to the apartment because I can’t go and help her find them. I know it’s heartbreaking.

Liz Craven  13:51

It really is. It’s COVID has caused us all to shift in so many ways. And I know for a caregiver that’s got to be really difficult, because a lot of the things that really held you together as a caregiver, have now really been put aside and you have to find a new glue.

Laura Fraker  14:10

Yeah. And I’m doubly blessed. I really feel for the folks that are that sandwich generation that are juggling, you know, kids and parents and a job I was very blessed to be able to retire a little bit early. And that has and to be able to move back to Lakeland. I was about an hour hour and a half away. And that was that was exhausting. And I know my best my other best friend in Fort Lauderdale she drove an hour each way to see her mom almost every day of the week and I cannot even imagine the stress that that would put on you. So certainly kudos and my heart goes out to your listeners that are in that situation.

Liz Craven  14:50

Caregivers come in all different shapes and sizes don’t they are long distance caregivers. I was a long distance caregiver for my mother Part of the time, although when she was really sick and needed help, she would stay with me. But the long distance part was hard. That was three hours away. And I’ve been a caregiver of somebody living in my home and also a caregiver for someone who still is in their own home. And every single one of those experiences is different. You’re right. And it’s I think, in every individual case, it’s different to depending on the support system that you have around you.

Laura Fraker  15:29

Yeah, my husband ed is the caregiver for his mother. And she’s 12 hours away. But she’s in a wonderful Brookdale Living Center in North Carolina. And they we trust that they are taking good care of her. And she has a good team. That’s that’s like a family to her. So we’re and I, again, with COVID, unable to get up there as often as we would like and to see her through the windows, but it’s, it’s we’re making the best of it.

Liz Craven  15:55

That’s all we can do. We’re playing the the hand we’ve been dealt, Yes, for sure. So how has all of the the transition of your your parents health? How has that changed the dynamic of the family?

Laura Fraker  16:11

It’s definitely changed. I mean, it My dad has always been really, really close. But and again, they’re both doing the best they can with the hands they’ve been dealt, and Dad, I think has tried to cover for mom a little bit. And that has made it a little more challenging for me to ask enough questions to get to the bottom of what’s really going on. Because I’m not physically there. 24 seven, like he is, you know, sometimes I feel like I’m not getting the whole story. And are things worse than I think they are? Or are they better than I think they are? It’s am I overreacting to something or am I missing something big that I should be acting on? So definitely, I mean, I always could count on my dad for the truth. And I don’t think he’s intentionally being misleading. But I think he’s trying to do what he thinks is best for him. And for my mom, in the strange time of transition.

Liz Craven  17:07

He’s protecting the love of his life

Laura Fraker  17:09

Absolutely. And they want to stay together Absolutely. As long as they can. Dad’s health is not really great, either. He’s had all his health challenges. So he said the other day, He’s surprised that he’s still here. Like, Oh, my gosh, dad. But um, yeah, that’s that’s been the hardest part of the transition for me is that they’ve always cared for me and been my support. So it’s now 180. And I’m trying to help care for them, you know, even at a distance. And, you know, it’s really hard.

Liz Craven  17:41

The role reversal part is something that until you’ve done that with your parents, it’s difficult to appreciate. You know, I knew about it, before it happened with me. But I will never forget the first time my mother looked at me and called me the mommy daughter. I was thinking to myself, Oh, holy cow, what does that mean?

Liz Craven  18:08

But you know, that was her perception, each of her children had a role that they played in her cancer journey, and in how her life was going to play out. And she picked those roles for us. I was the mommy daughter.

Laura Fraker  18:25

I love it. It is it’s it, I think one of the hardest parts of aging that I don’t look forward to is is the loss of control, you know, for those of us that are not type A personality that like to be in control of all the different parts of our lives. And at some point, you lose that control or have to give it up by choice, and it’s not fun. And so I know my mom is really struggling with that I’ve gone to doctor’s appointments with her and I won’t say forced her, but you know, and encouraged her to tell the doctor the truth. You know, Mom, that’s not what I observed. And that’s not what she told me the other day. And in that, you know, I’m not used to that confrontation with my parental figure.

Liz Craven  19:06

It is hard because you also don’t want to distinguish their light, you know that? Yes, they are doing the best they can to hold on to as much normal as they can. And especially somebody with dementia and somebody who’s experiencing that that knows they’re experiencing that, which is most people in the early stages and exactly where your mind is, knows what’s going on. But it’s one of those things that if I don’t see it, and I don’t acknowledge it, and it’s not there, right. It reminds me of my dog freckles. Do you remember Freckles?

Laura Fraker  19:41

Yes, I do.

Liz Craven  19:43

This dog. This is the cutest cocker spaniel ever and we on Saturdays when we would clean the house, we would open the front door to air everything out. And the dog knew she wasn’t supposed to go outside. But she would sit in the middle of the floor and she would look at us out of the question. corner of her eye. As if if I don’t look straight at you, you’re not there. And she would inch by inch make her way. I’m invisible. And she was always shocked when we figured it out and get back over there. But in the same way, don’t we don’t kind of side eye a lot of things that happen in our lives Personally, I know I do.

Liz Craven  20:22

Absolutely. If I don’t acknowledge it, if I just pretend it’s not there, then it can’t hurt me. And that’s not always true.

Laura Fraker  20:28

Yeah, exactly, exactly. And, and my mom is, is in that early stage where she has good days and bad days. And, you know, most days, she’s perfectly fine, which is a blessing, we’ll try to hold on to those as long as we can.

Liz Craven  20:42

So what have been some of your unexpected challenges that you’ve encountered?

Laura Fraker  20:48

The doctors, I really thought that that in this day and age, they would be more in tune with these changes. And her internist, I just begged for her to be diagnosed for her, you know, to acknowledge for her doctor to acknowledge that these changes were happening, and there was something going on. And when they ultimately did all the testing, the MRIs, and the brain scans, they did they found that she had vascular changes going on that were affecting her behavior, subtly in some cases, but you know, now they’ve started her on a on a drug to hopefully slow down some of those things. But my frustration was why didn’t that happen sooner? Why was why why were they not taking me seriously? And in doing that, so that would i would say, that was my biggest challenge.

Liz Craven  21:43

I don’t think that’s probably the case with a lot of people. Because right now, I read an article recently about the fact that there are not enough medical students taking on gerontology, that we are losing that specialty, it is a very high demand position. And we don’t have enough doctors to fill those positions. That would be another very interesting topic. You’re right. Yeah, I think we’re gonna have to do that one, because a gerontologist is very specialized in an aging person’s health and understanding everything that happens not just with the physical body, but within the environment, and with the family dynamic, and all of those things. And when you go to just a Doctor Who and I say just and I don’t mean to minimize at all, they are all amazing at what they do. But when you’re not specialized in it, it’s very easy to’re seeing a 40 year old patient, and you’re seeing next an 80 year old patient, those two patients are very different. And unless you have constant exposure to that aging person, it’s very difficult to relate to that unless you’ve been through it, you know,

Laura Fraker  22:56

And if they’re otherwise healthy, and you only see them once or twice a year, maybe, and you see them for 15 minutes. I mean, our healthcare environment is now that those doctors are having to push those patients through as many as they can in a day. And that doesn’t allow, you know, I should give them a break. I get it. Why, you know, they’re just having to take my word for it. Because in her office, she’s having a great day. And she is, what do they call it aware of person, place and time. You know, so I have to be very specific and taking notes in my phone and saying this happened today. And this happened yesterday. And that happened the day before. That were to me evidence of behavioral changes.

Liz Craven  23:34

That’s a really great practical tip. I want to I’m gonna replay. Did you all hear what she just said? She’s taking notes in her phone. So when you observe things that your loved one does, or says, or a behavior, maybe a change in the way they walk, maybe they’re having trouble holding the fork with their right hand and have started trying to use their left hand, maybe it can be any kind of change when you notice those things, document everything that will really help when you go to the doctor’s office.

Laura Fraker  24:05

Absolutely. Because when I was that was when I finally got some traction when I was able to offer a laundry list of things that had happened that were not the norm for my sweet mom. And she was one of the smartest people I ever knew as a school teacher with working with learning disabled children. I mean, she was just smart as a whip. I wish I’d gotten a little more of that. She She was amazing. So again, I you know, I’m one of the people that knows her the best and I could see that’s that’s not my mom.

Liz Craven  24:38

Yeah. Wow. That’s that that also is an episode all in itself. So what have been some of the unexpected blessings that you’ve encountered?

Laura Fraker  24:50

I think moving back here and being able to be closer to them and and during this pandemic, you know, we’re kind of our own bubble. So we’ve spent a lot more time together than I have in The last 10 years. So that definitely has been a blessing to be here with them and to have those experiences together going for walks, or just watching church together online or, you know, those things, those have been great because I if I had been living, you know, we’re in Pinellas County an hour away, I would have missed a lot of these things.

Liz Craven  25:22

I know how much joy that brings them.

Laura Fraker  25:25

And it does me too. They love to just pop on, Ah ha.

Liz Craven  25:30

It is great to do that. And the joy on their face when they get to see their beautiful daughter.

Laura Fraker  25:36

Okay, Daddy comes and sprays my orchids that he gave me in my backyard that I just had really escaped. And it just makes me smile. And he’s he’s so good with orchids.

Liz Craven  25:47

That is so sweet. So what would be your best piece of advice for a new family caregiver?

Laura Fraker  25:57

Hmm. Read, watch videos, watch, do your research, try to get a handle on what it is they’re going through. And then, you know, reach down inside and find every bit of empathy and compassion to be understanding when things happen, whether it’s, you know, in their control, or out of their control that you use, stay patient with them and with yourself, while you’re learning and while you’re going through each experience and find a good friend to lead, get advice and counsel from because sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees when you’re in the middle of it. And, you know, you you have to find the resources that are going to give you the support, you need to keep going because it can be exhausting. I know how again, blessed I am to have the wonderful resources that I have and and to go out and find the ones that I’m going to need for the next step in the journey.

Liz Craven  26:59

Right. Good advice. And you also are very good at making sure you take time for self care.

Laura Fraker  27:05

Yes, exercise, my best friend taught me that. No, that’s not true. My dad, being a YMCA director, I was raised in a household where you got exercise, but I went through stages in my life where I didn’t do such a good job with that. And you definitely reminded me to, you know, when you’re a caregiver, you’ve got to take care of yourself because it wears on you not just physically but emotionally and it can, it can break you down.

Liz Craven  27:27

It can, it can and it can overcome you so quickly. You can be fine this day, and all of a sudden, the next day you’re not. But when you’re taking time to give yourself some love and put yourself first even if it’s just for 10 or 15 minutes a day, it makes all the difference. So you you stay grounded and centered within yourself,

Laura Fraker  27:49

and making time to prepare healthy food and taking time to eat that good food and to you know, do your own doctor’s appointments and your own. You know, getting your hair done whatever it is that gives you joy and gives you peace, whether it’s meditation or yoga, or just I’ve tried all kinds of different things. But you got to have that, that space and time for yourself and for your spouse and for your children and for what other things are important in your life.

Liz Craven  28:17

Absolutely. Because the The bottom line is, if you are rundown and you are sick and you are not at your best, you cannot give the best to your caring for. Absolutely, yeah. Well, let’s close this with another quote because I saw this online. And I could not find who said this originally. But I liked it. So I’m going to share it. Treat your parents with loving care. You will only know their value when you see their empty chair.

Laura Fraker  28:53

That’s something though Yeah,

Liz Craven  28:55

right to the heart resonates.

Liz Craven  28:57

Because I see that my mom’s chair is empty every day. And you know that phone call I still even after what almost six years now, I still pick up the phone to call her.

Laura Fraker  29:12

I know I I treasure every single interaction every single day to pick up the phone and call them because I know there will be a time when I won’t be able to so yeah.

Liz Craven  29:23

Well thank you so much.

Laura Fraker  29:24

You’re welcome. I’m so proud of you and all that you’re doing and all the people you’re helping and so congratulations to your listeners for finding you.

Liz Craven  29:34

Well, this is a special special interview to me and I hope that all of you have enjoyed the conversation as much as I have. And if you did, I really appreciate it if you would click Subscribe now and also share the sage aging podcast with a friend. I’d love to connect with you. So look for me on social media too. You can find Sage aging on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and you can find me Liz Craven on on LinkedIn, if you have topic ideas you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line at info at Sage Thanks again for listening, everyone. We’ll talk real soon

Liz Craven
Author: Liz Craven

Liz Craven, along with her husband Wes, owns Pro-Ad Media, publisher of Sage Aging ElderCare Guide, serving the local community for over 29 years. Liz lives in Lakeland and is very active in the local community, specifically in the area of aging. Liz serves on a number of local boards and committees including the Lakeland Vision and Age Friendly Lakeland.