I’m 61 years old and will soon be publishing my first book about caring for aging parents. It’s entitled, The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving: A Practical Memoir. I’m a writer, a teacher, a friend, a sister, an ex-wife, a pet parent, and always a daughter, even though both my parents are now deceased.
Who had the biggest impact on shaping who you are today?
My parents. I got my love of reading and learning from my father. From my mother, I realized the importance of expressing your creativity in whatever form you choose.
What’s a personality trait you have that you really value?
My sense of humor. It has saved my sanity on so many occasions, when nothing else could.
What’s your mantra?
I actually have two. “It is what it is.” and “What is the lesson here?”
Who are you caring for? What is your caregiving story?
I became a long-distance caregiver for my parents in 2007, after my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and my dad had a bad fall. He passed away a year later, and I helped care for my mom until her death in 2013.
What is your greatest caregiving lesson?
That we can’t always make everything better for a parent, despite our love and efforts.
What do you wish you were told before you became a caregiver?
How every aspect of your life, past present and future comes into play when caring for aging parents. It taps into childhood behaviors, sibling rivalry, messages you received from your family as you grew up, and your own insecurities. Since that also holds true for others involved in your parents’ care, it can make for quite a stew.
What advice would you give to other caregivers?
The short answer has to do with a throw pillow I gave my mother several years ago. It has a picture of a cow lying on its back with all four legs up in the air. Written underneath, it said “I’m fine.” My key advice is: Don’t be the cow.
What’s your best piece of advice for life in general?
Practice gratitude every day. If we can just take a few moments every day to be present in our lives, we can always find something to be thankful for.
What’s been the hardest part of caregiving for you?
Accepting that no matter how prepared I tried to be, there remained so much that was out of my control.
What’s the most rewarding part of caregiving?
For me, it’s those moments of grace when the roles of caregiver and receiver disappear and you are simply two human beings sitting together sharing your story. About who you love; why you love them; what you’re grateful for; what keeps you going during tough times; what you’ve learned over the years; who or what brings you joy. It’s like a gift you give each other.
What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
Give my cat, Addie Jacob a quick belly rub. Only because she stretches out in front of the bathroom door as soon as she hears me wake up.
What’s the last thing you do at night?
I say “Thank you.”
What keeps you up at night?
Imaginary conversations with certain people
What motivates you?
Being of service.
Writing. For me, it has always been the best way to process major life events. In terms of my caregiving experience, it gave me a safe outlet for venting when I was stressed or angry; it helped me gain a clearer perspective on some of the deeper issues that arose from caring for both my parents, and it also allowed me to process the grief that I was feeling well before they died. I facilitate a writer’s group for caregivers at our local library and at every meeting I see what a difference writing makes. The work that comes out of these sessions is very powerful, and sharing with each other creates such a sense of community and connection, which are the very things that caregivers are often missing.
In ten words or less, what has caregiving taught you?
To accept my own limitations.
What’s your best habit?
Making To Do lists, primarily on sticky notes. Unbeknownst to me, they sometimes hitch a ride on the back of my slacks. I’ve actually walked through the grocery store like that and no one has ever said a word…
What do you do when you have 15 minutes of free time?
I write. There are pens and paper in my car, my purse and all over my house.
What do you think makes a life well lived?
The practice of Tikkun Olam. In Hebrew, that means “save the world.” To me, it means making a difference in people’s lives, both locally and globally.
What question do you hope an interviewer would ask?
Has anyone ever said you look just like Barbara Streisand?