In 2007, I began caring for my mom, who was diagnosed with breast cancer, and my dad, who’d had a bad fall. It was shocking how much data had to be absorbed quickly, followed by decisions that were often made under stress when emotions were running high.
When they became ill, I moved back to Tampa from Los Angeles and was rehired by my previous employer. Like many caregivers today, I continued to juggle this full-time job while helping my parents, who lived in Orlando.
Since much of my time was spent dealing with quality of life issues and honoring my parents’ wishes, there was great concern about making the right choices. During a six-year roller coaster ride, the experience literally became the catalyst for everything I’ve done since – my book, the writer’s group and the presentations I give. Having learned so much, it was imperative for me to share the information and help other caregivers feel understood, supported and more prepared.
At the age of 62, I decided to write a book, The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving: A Practical Memoir, which describes the experience of caring for my mom and dad during the last phase of their lives. An honest account with a healthy dose of humor and some tears, each chapter covers a particular topic on the caregiving spectrum, including completing important legal and healthcare documents, handling upended family dynamics, talking to doctors, practicing self-care and dealing with grief and loss.
In addition to giving talks on a variety of subjects that includes caring for aging parents, and creating a legacy letter for family and friends, I also facilitate a writer’s group specifically for caregivers.
The feedback received from this encore work has really been food for the soul. A pair of siblings used the book to start a much-needed conversation with their mother and father about helping them remain at home safely with the care they required.
Members of our writer’s group share how good it feels to laugh and cry about the ups and downs of caregiving without fear of judgment because they’re with people who understand the mix of sentiments that are part of this journey.
In my legacy letter talks, I encourage the audience to think about individuals who have greatly influenced their lives. One woman, when asked who her hero was, realized it was her developmentally disabled son. When she stopped to think that every morning he got up and faced the world, knowing it would be a struggle, she was in awe of his courage.
I believe we are on this planet to help each other, in whatever capacity we can. Caregiving is hard work, even when performed with great love. When we’re not afraid to speak truthfully about the challenges, it creates an opportunity for dialogue that can change things for the better. It’s both humbling and gratifying to know that I can be a small part of that.