Workers With Woes From Home Finding Help -- At Work

Woman's Guilt Relieved By Sympathtic Listener

January 30, 1991|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff writer

One phone call to a counselor helped Patricia Livelsberger wrest control of her life from the stress of watching her father die of cancer.

"It made me see I can't control the illness and it's going to end in death, but I can control what's happening with me," she said.

Livelsberger, 37, a supervisor at Random House Inc. in Westminster, had been one of the leaders in the company's move to offer an employee assistance plan to help workers deal with stressful emotional oraddiction problems.

A year ago, she found herself making the callfor help. During the months before her father died in December 1989,Livelsberger often got calls at work about his condition worsening.

"I would get a call at work that he stopped breathing and was rushed to the hospital. I left work, rushed to the hospital in Baltimore,and he would live through it. This went on for several months."

Often, the ring of a phone made her fear getting news her father had died.

One afternoon, she left work early, planning to use the time to be with her father. But she couldn't bring herself to go. The stress of caring for him, wanting to spend time with her husband and two sons and maintaining her job was overwhelming her, she said.

"I said, 'Patricia, you have got to get hold of yourself.' "

Then she made the same phone call she had so often urged others to make -- to the employee assistance program.

"As a supervisor, I refer a lot ofpeople to call them," she said. Still, "I was really reluctant to call."

Already feeling she didn't have enough time for her father and family, she was worried about fitting in regular sessions with a counselor.

As it turned out, that one phone call was all she needed.She talked with James Clements, director of the Employee Counseling Program at Family and Children's Services, which operates the employee assistance program for Random House.

"They made me see some alternatives I didn't even know were there. Things usually look black or white," Livelsberger said.

She had fretted about having to ask fora leave of absence from work so she could stay with her father more often. However, Clements suggested asking for just two days off a week, enough to share the burden with her sister.

It made perfect sense, Livelsberger said.

She never had to ask her boss for time off,though. Her father died later that night.

The 45-minute phone conversation with Clements was not too late, however, to free Livelsberger from the guilt she felt for not carrying a greater share of the family's burden of caring for her father.

"If I would have had to deal with the grief and feeling guilty at the same time, I don't know if I could have dealt with it," she said.

"So that evening, when wewent over to the house, I was OK."

Clements, she said, choking back tears, "made me see I had done everything I could possibly do for my dad."

Before the call to the employee assistance program, she said, she was racked with guilt at not doing as much as her sister andstepmother.

They were under the same stress and unable to reassure her she was doing her share, she said, which added to her guilt.

Her stepmother had taken a leave of absence from her job, which added a financial strain to the emotional one. Her sister had sacrificedsleep to stay up nights with her father, so their stepmother could get enough rest to carry the load during the day.

Livelsberger spent time with her father after work and on weekends. The stress added to some existing medical problems, she said, such as anemia that made her pass out once at her father's house and headaches that were so severe her husband took her to the emergency room one night.

At the time, she said, she and her doctor assumed that stress was probably exacerbating her existing medical problems.

Livelsberger said her husband's support was what kept her going.

"If I had to point to one strength during that whole time, it was my husband, Patrick. He wasa real rock. He supported me in whatever I did. That was a constant I knew wouldn't change," she said.

Even before the call to employee assistance, Livelsberger's family had received help from another organization.

Earlier in the year, Livelsberger had contacted Hospice of Carroll County. The counseling and information from hospice lessened Livelsberger's stress over her father's behavior, by letting them know what to expect.

The hospice volunteer assigned to the family not only spent time with her father, but also lent an ear to familymembers to help them unload their feelings, Livelsberger said.

She recalled an afternoon she was staying with her father while her stepmother was out, and the volunteer came over and talked with her for several hours while her father slept.

"She also gave my dad someone to talk to who was not a wife or daughter. Hospice took a lot of the burden off my family."

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