During the time that her career was just beginning to flourish, Loni Anderson was balancing her work on the television show “WKRP in Cincinnati” with caring for her mother who was suffering from COPD. This was not long after her father had passed away following his own battle with the disease. Loni has long wanted to share her own experience managing a career, family, and her caregiving duties that she knows is shared with many men and women who commit themselves to tending to the health of a family member. With this in mind, Loni graciously agreed to answer some questions for from me so that I could pass her thoughts along to HealthCentral readers.
CBB: Loni, you’re a household name now, but when your mom became ill with COPD your career was just beginning to flourish. Most of us don’t have to balance such a glamorous career with our loved one’s needs, but when it comes to worry and caregiver guilt, we’re all in the same boat. How did you manage to avoid overwhelming guilt when you had to choose between your mother’s needs and the demands of the popular TV series WKRP in Cincinnati?
LA: My mother felt guilty because she was a lifetime smoker from the age of 11. I would have to comfort her through her feelings of guilt for having brought this disease on herself. This was all happening during the 80s after “WKRP” and heightened during my work on a series called “Partners in Crime” with Linda Carter. I had extreme guilt about not being there every moment to the point of walking off the set and saying “fire me, sue me, I have to go.” I was lucky to have an understanding producer who was Johnny Carson. I don’t think you can avoid feelings of guilt, you can just do your very best to be there when they need you.
CBB: Did you have any flexibility built into your filming schedule so that you could help your mom with medical appointments or attend to her on a particularly bad day?
LA: Yes, everyone understood what my mom was going through so they really did try and make it easier for me. It’s something you really have to share with everyone in your life and not be afraid to ask for help.
CBB: I’m assuming that you must have eventually needed to hire some help for your mom. If you did, could you tell me what you looked for in caregiving help?
LA: Toward the end of her life, I did have to hire professional nurses. I looked for a woman who was very warm and caring. My mom was private and she didn’t want to share intimacies with a man.
CBB: How did/do you cope knowing that you were a human caregiver, therefore you couldn’t always be perfect?
LA: I think this is when you come to the realization that to take care of someone you have to take care of yourself. Even if it’s just an hour a day to call someone in to relieve you, you’ll come back refreshed with a more positive attitude.
CBB: Did you feel that your friends and colleagues understood how difficult it was for you to balance caregiving with your work schedule?
LA: Everyone is going to be a caregiver at some time in their life for their parents, their children, siblings and friends. I was very lucky to have friends, family and co-workers who were understanding.
CBB: Did you ever feel like you couldn’t do it all anymore? That feeling of caregiver burnout?
LA: Yes, and I shared this with my mom when she was my father’s main caregiver. Sometimes she would go to the basement and call me crying and that’s when I would get on a plane and come to her aid. When I had caregiver burnout, I had my daughter, friends, family and clergy to turn to.
CBB: In what ways would you say that being a caregiver helped you as a person?
LA: Being a caregiver makes you more compassionate, understanding and non-judgmental of others.
CBB: Thanks for your time, Loni. We all feel pain when our loved ones are ill. While you may have had resources not available to every family caregiver, you have had the same feelings of guilt and burnout. Your answers mirror those of many of us who are still traveling the caregiver road.
Published On: November 24, 2014