Judith Henry is an author and speaker. Her book, The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving: A Practical Memoir, is a fantastic read for any woman, or man, looking for practical suggestions and useful information about caregiving.
Where and when do you feel most competent? Oddly enough, in a medical setting when advocating for someone I love. After becoming a caregiver for my mom and dad, the first thing we did was make sure they had living wills in place, so I knew what their treatment and end-of-life choices were. Being their healthcare surrogate meant ensuring their decisions were honored. It wasn’t always easy, especially with our current system of treating the elderly with medications and/or surgeries that often leave them in a more weakened state.
With what do you struggle? I think women, in general, put a tremendous burden on themselves to do everything perfectly. When I was helping my folks, time management was very difficult, since I was also working full time. There were days I felt resentful and stressed out, then I’d beat myself up for not being the perfect daughter or caregiver. Writing my book about the experience was finally what allowed me to forgive myself for simply being human. Forgive yourself for being human. @DutifulDaughtr Click To Tweet
What one thing do you wish you had more time for? Reading for pure pleasure. When I was growing up, my dad used to come home every evening from work, and ask my younger siblings and me, “What did you do of any consequence today?” That has stuck with me all my life, so it seems my time is always spent “doing” for some purpose or goal.
Where do you find support? I’ve been blessed with some amazing friends, but my sense of humor has saved me more times than I can count. It really can be one of a caregiver’s greatest allies. For example, I used to joke about frequently changing the ringtones on my cell phone, because every time it rang, a plume of adrenaline would shoot up my spine, and I’d brace for bad news about my parents. Pavlov’s dogs had nothing on me.
What is your best habit? I’ve always been a list-maker. Few things give me as much satisfaction as lining through an item.
If you knew then, what you know now… I wish I’d known how every aspect of your life – past, present, and future – comes into play when caring for an aging parent. It taps into childhood behaviors, sibling rivalry, messages you received growing up, your own insecurities, and fear for what the future may hold. When you have siblings and realize that everyone is coming from that same place, it makes for quite a stew. I probably would have handled some things differently, had I been aware of this.
What is your dream retirement? I’m hoping to retire from my full-time day job in a few years, so I can dedicate more time to writing another book or two, give more workshops, talks, and facilitate multiple writer’s groups for caregivers. Yeah, it’s a working retirement.
What would you like to see employers do more of to help caregivers? Having the option of flexible work hours and locations would be helpful. Also, considering the money that companies spend on educational talks and training sessions for employees, offering work/life balance sessions that address caregiving issues would be so beneficial. For everyone, not just Baby Boomers, this is not a subject that’s going to go away, so we need to figure out how to deal with a workforce that is constantly juggling the demands of both personal and work responsibilities.
What would you like to see medical professionals do more of to support caregivers? Spend more time talking with us honestly about a parent’s condition. Also, healthcare professionals have a knack for wearing blinders when it comes to their specialty, and they often fail to consider that medical decisions affect not only the person who is ill and/or elderly, but entire families.
Who are your heroines? My mother, first and foremost. A gifted artist, she died in 2013, just shy of turning 91. Despite surgeries, disease, and heartache, she managed to greet every day with gratitude and a sense of humor.
What do you admire in/about other caregivers? Their resilience. Caregiving is hard work, even when it’s performed with great love.
What is your motto? It is what it is. Sometimes, it’s important to just accept and deal with what’s happening in the moment.
What is your superpower? While I can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound, I am able to make people laugh with a single story, even one about grief and loss.
Caregiving: a blessing or a burden. Definitely, both. Of course, there was stress and sorrow, but there were also moments of laughter, grace and deep connection with my parents in those final years. In retrospect, I’m grateful for everything that happened.
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