I will never forget the day in my parents’ garden when my dad, with tears in his eyes, told me Mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
After a few days of feeling paralyzed, I started problem-solving. Was Mom’s will updated? How were their finances? What would happen when Dad could no longer care for Mom? Where would they live? Did I need to have power of attorney?
I became so caught up with my list of questions and tasks I forgot the most obvious priority: to sit with my mom. To just be with her and to give emotional support to my dad.
It took some time, but eventually I got over feeling overwhelmed with responsibility. I found that this job of caregiver was hard work—but it was also an amazing gift. And I discovered some habits that made life a little easier and better for all of us.
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I started calling my dad every evening at the end of my workday—something I do to this day. Within the first 10 seconds, I could often tell by Dad’s voice whether he and Mom were having a good day or a bad day.
We continued to work on home renovation projects together. Dad and I wanted Mom to feel needed and part of our activity, so we welcomed her participation—whatever that looked like. I learned to live in the moment and to be so happy for the interaction you can have with a loved one in that moment.
I became hyper-aware of catching others in caring acts. Watching a neighbor planting and nurturing a new tree helped me see caregiving not as a burden, but as an act of love. Last winter, several neighbors shoveled the driveway of an older woman who has singlehandedly raised a special-needs son. She was so touched, and we all grew closer.
I learned it was OK to say I could do job A, but not job B. It was OK to tell a friend, “Get ready: I’m going to talk for the next 20 minutes. Just nod your head in agreement with me when it seems appropriate—you don’t have to say a thing.” And I found that it was not just OK, but really important, to do some special things just for myself.
I found my sensitivity to others and my priorities changing in very big ways. I learned to take joy in something as simple as my mom sitting outside in the sun with a smile on her face.
Of course, I can have these quiet, special and transcendental experiences…and 30 minutes later, you may find me on the floor throwing a tantrum. But it’s a journey. And as I grow in this role, I have more moments of peace and fewer as an “unhappy because I can’t get what I want” child.
The reward for me is a new worldview: I will show compassion for those I come in contact with—and show that same compassion for myself.