Leukemia. That word changed my Ufe in more ways man one. It was at the end of dinner at my parents' home that Dad mentioned he had leukemia - and quickly changed the subject to news, weather and sports.
Little did I know that his announcement would set me on a new patii toward creating a nonprofit organization to provide resources and support aimed at enabling caregivers to develop the knowledge and skills they need to make a difference in the lives of elders and those with chronic illness.
My Dad was 76, and I was 33. As I look back now, I realize I did the best that I didn't know how to do. What's frustrating is that when I reached out for guidance and support, I didn't know the questions to ask. As my dad's health deteriorated, I contacted people I considered to be his advisers - financial, legal, medical and spiritual. I expected people in mese fields to help me figure out the best kinds of things I could do to support my parents.
On my dad's 79th birthday, my mom, who I realized only much later was probably at a late stage of dementia, called around 8 p.m. She said something was not right with Dad. I immediately went to their home and ended up taking Dad to the emergency room. A physician indicated that my dad probably would not be leaving the hospital anytime soon, if at all. Dad was admitted to the hospital with a serious case of pneumonia.
During the next couple of weeks, I made more calls to his advisers. The banker offered money to pay for private duty nurses, but I wasn't asking for money. The attorney offered to deliver copies of Dad's advance directives; however, I didn't need legal documents. His doctors explained leukemia, pneumonia, delirium and more. Mostly, though, these explanations went over my head. Because Dad had not been well enough to get to church for a while, we'd lost contact with his church of 25 years. Also, the reverend we knew well had retired and we were not famliiar with the new clergy.
HELPING OTHERS COPE
In the wake of these experiences, my Ufe changed dramatically. I quit my job in product development and marketing and started Aging America Resources (www.embracecaregiving.org), an organization devoted to equipping, empowering and encouraging family and pastoral caregivers. (We offer books and smallgroup studies, pastoral care program support, and workshops and seminars.)
I began writing books and sharing resources to help people avoid the …