Being a caregiver was the hardest job I ever did. For 16 years, I served as a caregiver to older adult family members during their last illnesses. The work was exhausting and emotionally draining. I slowly lost my loved ones to Alzheimer’s disease and/or cancer. I struggled to maintain my full-time job while caring for my loved ones. As their health worsened, I gradually eliminated other activities until there was essentially no free time, and not nearly enough sleep. I attended to my loved ones’ physical, emotional, and spiritual needs at end of life. I grieved each loved one who died.
Being a caregiver was the most fulfilling job I ever did. I wouldn’t trade those precious years as a caregiver, or the intense months of end-of-life caregiving, for anything in the world. I learned to carry on, even when I felt empty, depleted, and inadequate. I learned to draw strength from my faith, family, and friends. I learned to show my loved ones that I loved them for who they were, not for what they did. I learned to speak by my actions, when I could no longer reach my loved ones by my words. I learned that the most profound communication is without words. I realized that caregiving was the work that I truly loved—although it was not the work for which I had been educated.
Being a caregiver led to my new career. After my loved ones died, and I was alone, I felt lost. I went to a therapist. He said that I was experiencing normal grief, plus a need for a midlife career change. After he guided me through a long, careful exploration, I realized that I wanted to care for older adults, including those who are nearing end of life; and that I wanted to be a counselor. My therapist suggested that I get a master’s in social work. In the summer between my grad school years, I chose to take a certification course in caring for persons with dementia. I learned that my path from a personal dedication to a professional one was not unusual. Each participant in the class—whether instructor or student—had been a caregiver to family member(s) with dementia, who had since died. Each participant said that caregiving was incredibly hard. And each participant said that they wanted to keep learning skills that would enable them to help persons who are currently suffering from dementia, and to help their caregivers.
May I walk with you? If you have been diagnosed with a serious chronic illness, or if you have a loved one who has been diagnosed with a serious chronic illness, it would be my honor to share your journey with you. It is too hard a journey to travel alone.