“It occurred to me in the middle of the night, this is not a Cast of Characters but rather a Cast of ‘Character.’”
I am pleased and excited to introduce the mid-life adults that I interviewed for this book. You will listen to their voices and discover that they are people of exceptional “character.” They have dedicated countless amounts of time and boundless energy to providing their own unique form of care to aging parents.
Dawn is the executive director of a multi-level retirement community. She has a gentle and sincere personality, and an ever-present calm and reassuring voice. Yet, Dawn remains firm when important values are at stake, and she leads her retirement community with an unquestionable dedication to her residents, family and staff. She is an only child; when her parents began to require some attention, Dawn translated that same level of dedication into meeting their needs.
“I was my parents’ advisor, helping them in the decision-making process. I was their protector, their guide, and I oversaw their care. My dad allowed me to help them without making me feel bad.”
Ellis is an educator and consultant in gerontology and organizational development. Ellis is crazy creative! She can come up with more ideas in 10 minutes than I can in 10 days! And she follows through on many of them. Ellis is vibrant, hilarious, and she brings these characteristics to her teaching of seniors and gerontology students. Needless to say, she is a very popular teacher. Ellis says that she was raised to believe that she could do anything, and she adores and thanks her parents for instilling within her this sense of passion for life.
“Caregiving is a privilege, and even though I thought I knew what to do, I fumbled, lost my patience, was upset with my father and siblings, and made all the mistakes that most caregivers do. In the end though, I knew it was all right … I did my best. I loved, absolutely loved the person my mother was, and I miss her every day … Caregiving is the hardest job I have taken on, but it was also one of the most satisfying.”
Kathi has lived alone all of her adult life. She is an office executive for a major metropolitan opera company. Responsible, capable, and patient when working through difficult situations at work and at home describe her well. But in addition, she has a sense of adventure and will travel the world on her own and take on volunteer projects for church and community groups that are completely outside of her specific expertise. Kathi says that someone has to do it and she always gets the job done.
“My dad checked into Cedars-Sinai on St. Patrick’s Day, 2005, to have throat surgery to remove polyps from his vocal cords, an event which changed our family’s course forever. The surgery left him unable to swallow food. He had to have a surgically inserted feeding tube. During the last six and a half years, my ordinary role as a middle age, unmarried daughter and friend to my parents has expanded to a multi-task role as chauffeur, TV companion, counselor, financial assistant, and Mom’s chef. To be clear on the last point: I do not cook, but I know where the finest prepared foods can be bought.”
Mike is a highly successful real estate developer. He is definitely the surprise member of my Cast. I only was familiar with him through other friends and would see him at large parties. On the surface, Mike seemed like a good-time guy, always funny, always telling stories. Hmm … probably not a candidate for an interview on aging.
Then one evening my husband and I sat across the aisle from Mike and his wife at a small restaurant in our community. We started with the usual small talk before ordering food and moving on with our separate dinners, and suddenly Mike started talking about his parents. We sat and listened as he shared with such caring and such sadness about his dad’s death and his mother’s current health struggles. I discovered this wonderful internal strength of character and passion. I asked him for an interview. He said yes.
“Helping my parents with doctors, hospitals, hospice care, and their last moments of life was both an honor and great source of pride for me. I know my brothers and sister felt the same. We were able to repay them, so to speak, for all the care and love they gave each of us for so many years.”
Patsy is a social worker and an executive for a large city in Southern California. A highly intelligent professional with the ability to prioritize and accomplish a multitude of important tasks in her long day, she still manages to carve out time for family, friends, and fun. I think she just doesn’t sleep. Patsy also approaches life as a continuous learning experience, looking for new ways to approach problems, develop fresh ideas, and never settle for the status quo. As a bonus, she also has a wonderful sense of humor!
“As the only one of my siblings living nearby, I gradually became my mother’s bookkeeper, health care advocate, appointment scheduler and all-around problem-solver. I was her protector and supporter, providing reassurance along with options when previously simple tasks became impossible or unsafe for her."
Peter is the baby of the Cast. He is a composer and the owner of a studio-music contracting business. He has had a lot on his plate at a fairly young age, with both work demands and parent demands. Although he can still be wonderfully child-like and in awe of the world around him, Peter also carries an anxiety with him that is sometimes overwhelming. But his religious beliefs allow him, when he is especially burdened, to give his worries over to God. Then he is able to move forward and tackle a problem with renewed energy and hope.
“Being a caregiver for my mom broke down our walls of frustrations with each other. She had been difficult to be close to, and this experience healed us in a way I never expected could ever happen.”
Terry is the pragmatic, completely down-to- earth member of our Cast. He is a corporate executive for a large not-for- profit senior housing, health, and services organization. He is deliberate in his actions, and wants to always be able to measure results, no matter how abstract the issue may be. Terry has an amazing ability to listen to many different opinions, and then clarify how the group should proceed to the next step. What he says is always, sometimes annoyingly, logical.
“I am able to use my over 30 years of experience in the aging field to monitor my parents’ well-being, even though they live at a great distance. I advise my parents and siblings on how to meet their individual needs today and what might arise in the future.”
Here is a brief description of the supporting cast. You will hear their telling quotes within their specific stories.
- Alyce was a stay-at- home mom for five children, and is now a stay-at- home caregiver for her 97-year- old mother. She is gentle, kind, and radiates warmth.
- Diana is an independent accountant working for several small businesses. She is straightforward and practical, attending to every detail with her mother. Her top priority is to assure all aspects of her mother’s dignity.
- Geri is a highly successful professional musician. She has become the Italian matriarch for her family and completely relishes her role as caregiver, creator of “joy moments,” coordinator of all medical issues for both parents, and surrogate mother to her siblings.
- Joann, my pool-bobbing buddy, has very recently become a phlebotomist, and she is working at a hospital in the research department for first-time pregnant moms. She is delighted to be starting in a new career, even as she continues to be the primary support for her mom. She is gregarious and always eager for adventure.
- Tom is an attorney who owns his own law practice. He possesses a genuine spirit of warmth and caring. He is the rock of his family, the person that his mother and his siblings look to for support.