It started with Joe. My elderly neighbor had lost his wife and his only child lived in New Jersey. He was totally deaf. How could I not help? My children were then young, and we adopted Joe. How could I have known he would become my charge for over five years? After Joes death, my own elders started falling like dominos into my care. First, my childless aunt and uncle moved to Fargo, North Dakota, where my family lived and still lives, to be closer to all of us. Then the strokes began with Uncle Wilkes. Then it was my in-laws and my parents. At one time, I was running between care-settings seven hours a day, seven days a week, helping elders, while caring for my own sons, one of whom has chronic health problems. How could I have known it would last twenty years?
We go into caregiving usually gradually thinking in the short term. For most people, it last much longer than anticipated. I now know that I should have taken better care of myself from the start. I hope, through my work with caregivers, that I can help them do what I didnt; I hope to help them learn the importance of self-care.
During the years of caregiving, I wrote Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories, though the Epilogue was written after my last three elders died. I was divorced at 56 three elders still living and needing me. I got back into the real job market, learning, on-the-fly, the skills needed in the modern world mostly technical. But, eventually, through my job as librarian at a newspaper, I was able to start to write an elder care column, also titled Minding Our Elders.
Because I had written a book and knew I would need to speak in public and because of had a horrible fear of doing so I joined Toastmasters International. It paid off. I gained the courage to speak to groups at workshops and conferences in North Dakota and Minnesota and anywhere else I am called. I also gained the courage to do radio interviews. Ive been on scores of shows including The Bev Smith Show, Radio Health Journal, The Tom Pope Show, The Tommy B. Show and Coping with Caregiving (clip on www.mindingourelders.com) which is hosted by fellow blogger Jacqueline Marcell.