Lavonne "Pepper" Paire-Davis, the female baseball star whose career inspired the movie, "A League of Their Own," recently passed away from natural causes.
The 88-year-old was a luminary of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, which ran from the early 1940s until 1955. The women's league may have been short-lived, but Paire-Davis and her fellow female players left a profound impact on the world of women's sports.
The challenges experienced by these trailblazing women have a few things in common with those faced by caregivers looking after their elderly relatives.
With that in mind, here are six reasons why caregivers are in a "League of Their Own:"
- They endure sleepless nights: Whether it's helping a loved one go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, or having a staring contest with the alarm clock because of worry-induced insomnia, caregivers are well-acquainted with restless nights. So too were the ladies in the pro league. In an interview on baseballguru.com, Paire-Davis describes trying to get some sleep during all-night bus rides that were often disrupted by the bus breaking down. "We spent many a night lying on the side of the road, waiting for a tow truck," she tells reporter John Holway, "And there was no such thing as a potty."
- They work long hours: Between ferrying a senior back and forth to doctor's appointments, and helping them cook, clean, bathe, etc., most caregivers have punishingly full schedules. While baseball did not demand the 24/7 commitment that caregiving does, Paire-Davis and her teammates often played upwards of eight games each week. They often played double-headers on Sundays, for crowds dressed in their church-going finery.
- They're tough as nails: Learning how to effectively deal with the physical and mental stresses of taking care of an elderly loved one forces caregivers to develop a thick skin—not unlike the women in the professional baseball league. The physical demands of the sport were daunting. And, the fact that the women were forced to play in short skirts certainly did not make things any easier. "The choices were either play in skirts, or go home. We got used to playing in skirts and slid very carefully." Paire-Davis quips in a Q and A on her website. She is said to have been so tough that she once broke a finger during a game and still kept playing. After fashioning a self-made splint out of popsicle sticks, she went right back to throwing her trademark base-stealing pitches.
- They have to learn how to manage on their own sometimes: Unhelpful siblings and unintelligible medical professionals can leave caregivers scrabbling for support and information. They are often faced with the daunting task of taking up the mantle of both care provider and advocate for their elderly loved ones all by themselves. Despite the fact that each team she played for had a manager, Paire-Davis says that she and her teammates were often forced to run the ball clubs themselves. One such absent-minded manager was Jimmy Foxx (portrayed by Tom Hanks in "A League of Their Own"). "When he [Foxx] was at the ballpark, he just sat at the end of the dugout and reflected on past dreams," she says.
- They realize that there is crying in caregiving, and in baseball: It's impossible to watch a loved one's health decline without shedding a few well-earned tears. Indeed, research has shown that the emotional release of crying is good for a person's health. Despite the infamous line ("There's no crying in baseball") uttered by Jimmy Foxx in, "A League of Their Own," Paire-Davis freely admits to having her share of break-downs. One of the most difficult times was when she discovered that the fighter plane her brother and her fiancé had been in had been shot down. She tells Holway that, she endured several weeks of playing games on the road, not knowing the fate of her beloved family members. She still played in every game, after which she would often wander around and then cry herself to sleep.
- People don't always understand why they do what they do: People who've never been faced with taking care of an elderly family member often find it difficult to comprehend why caregivers are willing to sacrifice so much for the ones they love. When caregiving starts, even close friends may scatter.They simply can't understand the various struggles that caregivers face on a regular basis. Paire-Davis and her teammates were no strangers to this type of outsider scrutiny. "They didn't accept us for a while," she says of the fans in the early days of the women's league. But, she adds that the women eventually, "made believers out of them by playing great, hard-nosed ball." So too can caregivers, through their dedication to their loved ones, help others better understand the multi-faceted nature of taking care of an elderly loved one—they can allow others to see both the beauty and the pain of caregiving.