In the heart of Gallup, New Mexico,Janice Peterson’s story, like so many others, is a testament to the importance of a social safety net for families in times of crisis. It’s a tale of resilience, love, and a relentless call for change in the form of Paid Family & Medical Leave (PFML) in New Mexico.
Janice’s life took an unexpected turn in 2008 when she embarked on a career in home care services. Her job involved traveling to reservations and providing care to elderly community members. Through her work, she began to grasp the profound challenges faced by many families in her community.
“I used to travel on reservation, visiting grandmas and grandpas, overseeing what their needs are…” Janice recalls.
In this line of work, she not only provided essential care but also became a compassionate observer of the hardships faced by aging individuals and their families. These families, often struggling with health issues, had the additional burden of caring for their elderly loved ones.
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However, it wasn’t until 2012 that Janice’s own life would be forever altered. Her husband, Jimmy Peterson, fell seriously ill, setting off a chain of events that would test the boundaries of love and resilience.
“At that time, he had lost his eyesight. He lost his appetite. One of his legs had to be amputated. So at the time, it was hard,” Janice shares. She was juggling a demanding job at McKinley County while trying to care for her ailing husband.
Balancing her career and her husband’s worsening health proved to be an insurmountable challenge. The demands of her job left her with little time to be by her husband’s side during this critical period.
“I had to stop working because he needed my help… family comes first,” Janice reflects on the difficult decision she had to make.
In 2016, Jimmy’s health took another devastating hit when he was diagnosed with kidney problems. Dialysis treatments became a part of their daily routine. To ensure her husband received the care he needed, Janice made the heartbreaking choice to quit her job and become his full-time caregiver.
The decision was not made lightly. Janice understood the gravity of her husband’s condition and knew that he needed her support now more than ever. She took it upon herself to be there for him, through every hospitalization and every moment of pain.
Her story highlights a fundamental truth – illness doesn’t just affect individuals; it has a profound impact on entire families. Janice’s children and grandchildren rallied around their beloved patriarch, adjusting their diets and routines to accommodate his needs.
The family’s unwavering support came at a cost. Her children had to take time off from work to assist her, affecting their own livelihoods. The economic challenges, coupled with the emotional toll, weighed heavily on the entire family.
Janice’s poignant story is a reflection of the harsh reality many families in New Mexico face. The absence of a comprehensive PFML program has left them grappling with difficult choices between work and caregiving.
As she recalls her family’s journey, Janice believes that the proposed Family Medical Pay Act could have made a significant difference. It’s not merely about financial stability; it’s about compassion and acknowledging the intricate web of interdependence within families.
“It would have made a real difference for me. That way, I would still have my job,” she asserts.
Janice firmly believes that the Family Medical Pay Act will make a difference, not just for her but for countless families facing similar hardships. She recognizes that her story isn’t unique; it’s a shared experience among many families across the state.
This program is about recognizing the shared human experience of facing health challenges and needing support. Janice emphasizes that all New Mexicans, regardless of their backgrounds, deserve this vital support.
Janice’s story is a heartfelt call to action. It’s a plea to New Mexico State legislators to understand the challenges families like hers face and to support the Family Medical Pay Act. It’s an opportunity to make a profound difference in the lives of countless individuals and families who need that extra help during their most trying times.
As Janice concludes her story, she extends an invitation to everyone who hears it – to share their experiences and advocate for change. Her hope is that, together, they can create a future where no one has to endure the hardships her family faced. It’s time to stand up for Paid Family & Medical Leave in 2024 and ensure that families like Janice’s receive the support they need when they need it the most.
This story was produced and published thanks to the support of the American Heart Association.