a train in the snow

Years ago, when I became my mother’s caregiver, I didn’t realize it would be a learning experience. My mother suffered a series of mini strokes that damaged her mind. Her doctor didn’t test her for Alzheimer’s disease because, as he noted, “We already know the results.” I researched mini strokes and memory disease. During the nine years I was my mother’s caregiver I learned more about her as a person, her approach to life, and her courage.

In 2007 I became a caregiver again when my twin grandchildren’s parents died from the injuries they received in separate car crashes. Having teenagers in the house again brought new energy to my life. I also learned from my grandchildren, things like the latest teen jargon, teenage interests, and food preferences.

I thought life would calm down after raising my grandkids for seven years. It didn’t. In 2013 my husband’s aorta split and he had three emergency operations. He suffered a spinal stroke during the third operation and it paralyzed his legs. I became his primary caregiver and it’s been a learning experience.

I’m learning family history.

My husband has been reminiscing and he tells family stories. One story is about his father, who was on a train during a snow storm. The drifts were so high they stopped the train and passengers were stranded for several days. When passengers heard that Dad was a doctor, they started coming to him. A snow plow finally reached the train, and drove over the roofs of the cars. Stories like these reinforce family structure and values.

I’m learning new coping skills.

Since I’m a grandmother I already have coping skills, but being a family caregiver has led to the development of new ones. Although I was always someone who planned ahead, I know I must make detailed plans for my husband’s care, and track these plans carefully. The importance of a daily routine is also something I learned, and I “tweak” the routine as needed.

I’m learning about my husband’s courage.

Doctors didn’t think he would walk again, but my husband is a miracle in the making. First, his therapists taught him to stand. Then they taught him to stand and pivot. And then they taught him to take a few steps with a walker. Today, he can walk the width of our townhome twice. One physical therapist said my husband’s determination had a lot to do with his progress.

I’m learning about life.

Being my husband’s caregiver has made me appreciate the little things in life more, things like watching television with my husband, discussing a newspaper article, and laughing together. At this age and stage of life, I’ve learned that the little things are really big things, moments we string together like the beads of a necklace.

Although caregiving is challenging and tiring, you may learn from your loved one. The most important thing you learn, and re-learn each day, is that caregiving is love in action. Thank you for your loving care.

Written by Harriet Hodgson
Rochester resident Harriet Hodgson has been a freelance writer for writing for 38 years, is the author of thousands of articles, and 36 books. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Minnesota Coalition for Death Education and Support. She is also a contributing writer for The Caregiver Space website, Open to Hope Foundation website, and The Grief Toolbox website. Harriet has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. A popular speaker, Harriet has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, caregiving, and bereavement conferences. Her work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. All of Harriet’s work comes from her life. She is now in her 19th year of caregiving and cares for her disabled husband, John. For more information about this busy author, grandmother, wife, and caregiver please visit www.harriethodgson.com

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  1. What a loving post! Thank you for sharing it Theresa. Life has sent you many challenges and love is your foundation.

  2. Hello Harriet
    I am walking the path as a caregiver and learned a great deal..
    Thank you for writing about your experiences .. We all learn from each other..

    With my mom , we were always close , but when she was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer , we became even closer and I learned how courageous she was ..? And what a great sense of humor she had..

    With my dad , I learned how he wished for a pill he could take and his Cancer would be gone.. I also learned how he adored my mom.. I adjusted my life so I could be available for their doctor appointments and grocery shopping etc. I learned how precious those times were when we went to lunch at their favorite places.. And my dad calling me and wanting me to take him thrift store shopping..

    With my mother in law I learned how life changes when a person has dementia ..I learned you never give up .. She didn’t…
    I learned not to sweat the small stuff..
    I saw her having a stroke and I learned what that looks like.. I learned to listen ..
    No matter what brought us to the ER , if she was released to go home, she always wanted to stop for breakfast ( no matter what time it was )

    Now with my husband having had a stroke in 2007, a heart attack in 2011 with open heart 4 way bypass and new aortic valve, gall bladder surgery , 6 months in hospitals and nursing homes , vascular surgery, toe amputation , CHF , diabitis , high blood pressure , I have learned how ️love carries us through , one day at a time.. With compassion , caring , gratefulness , love appreciation , and all the help one can assemble ..

    God Bless you all

  3. Thank you for reading my article, Sally, and for your kind comments.

  4. What a great article. I envy you your drive, outlook, and energy. And how great is your husband! (I am afraid if mine ever suffered such a thing, he would just give up till the day he died.) I’m sure your husband got himself up and going thanks to your encouragement, also.


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