This piece was written by former host of NPR’s All Things Considered, Connie Goldman.
For many years, I’ve collected and shared stories of those who have told me their personal experiences and learning. Through the sharing of a personal story, someone completely unrelated to the situation we are in is able to offer a source of comfort and inspiration. My wish is that their stories will bring you, or someone you know, an unexpected gift of both hope and healing.
I sincerely believe in the power of stories. I’ll now share a few short excerpts from some of the longer stories told in my books.
A Different Perspective
Lois will tell you that it’s never too late to heal old hurts, though. We talked about this when I came to visit her. We sat in her charming kitchen in a wooded residential area. Our conversation was about healing, not of the body but of the relationship between parent and child.
I had always had a very difficult relationship with my mother. And here I was thinking about bringing her to live close to me. I had spent a lifetime wanting a better relationship with my mother, but I had no clue how to fix it. We just couldn’t communicate.
I guess I secretly hoped that, living close to my mother, there might be a chance to work on a relationship that had disintegrated or maybe one that never really existed. Not until I became her caregiver did I realize how much we both needed each other. Building a genuine relationship with my mom during the two years she lived here was a mutual gift that grew from my sharing what life she had left and then participating in her dying.
New Ways to be With My Dad
Francis is married and has three grown sons, but Francis would rather talk about his dad and his experience as a caregiver. Being a caregiver during the last years of his father’s life brought about many personal realizations for him. “My relationship with my dad in those years of his illness fed my own midlife growing experience,” he told me.
Every once in a while, my dad would say, “Hey, Francis, why don’t you sit down with me and talk?” But I’d always say, “No time for that, Dad. Sorry.” I had gotten caught up in doing stuff around the house, in the routine care of my dad. Then one day I was driving home and it suddenly hit me. My dad was asking me to stop doing the “stuff” and to sit down with him, talk with him, share with him my day, and simply let him express his thoughts. He was asking me to listen to him.
So, things changed. I started to get other people to do the chores, so when I went over to the house, I could just be with him. Looking back, the illness I had damned for so long had, in truth, offered me a new way to be with my dad.
He’s With Me for the Journey
One day a neighbor of mine told me about Julie, who had recently gotten a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s. I made a plan to visit Julie, and she greeted me at the door with a smile.
I don’t specifically remember when my memory began to give me problems. I was a busy person out in the world and had started my own business. I just couldn’t do it easily or well anymore.
Then one day I noticed that I was beginning to take hours to get a presentation together. My husband started to realize how long simple tasks were taking me. Simple things were getting me confused. When Tom and I heard the words “early onset Alzheimer’s,” we walked silently out of the doctor’s office. We sat in the car, held onto each other, and both cried.
Very soon after the diagnosis, we began to re-organize our lives. We moved out of our house and into an apartment. My husband, Tom, takes care of the whole building we live in. The hardest thing for me now is to fill up a day.
Living Each Day Fully from Jeff
Jeff and I were introduced via e-mail through a friend. She told him I was a collector of stories and asked if he’d be willing to tell me his. “Sure,” he said. “Ask her to write to me, and I’ll tell her whatever she wants to know.” Jeff had been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, most often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS.
Between my bouts of painful sadness, this has all seemed surreal, yet I wasn’t in denial. The most powerful thing that keeps me out of depression is my sweet children. I need to have something to live for beyond myself, and my children are that reason.
Knowing there is no hope of recovery has led me to an unexpected freedom. It has enabled me to let go of certain things. I no longer worry about slights or injustices that occurred in the past. I’ve been liberated from the “conventional wisdom” of how a man my age is supposed to behave.
I hope these short excerpts have been able to illustrate a sense of acceptance and contentment that each caregiver or person in care has reached in their individual caregiving partnership. I’m confident that when you read the full story, you too will realize what I strongly believe – that a personal story can be a gift in disguise, an experience that moves you toward a more meaningful connection with yourself and others. You too may have stories that can be shared. I hope you will do that. A story can be a gift of new insights and learning for others.
Connie Goldman is an award-winning radio producer and reporter and former radio host for National Public Radio. For more than 35 years her public radio programs, writing, and speaking have been exclusively concerned with the changes and challenges of aging and family caregiving.
Connie is the author of several books including her latest, The Gifts of Caregiving: Stories of Hardship, Hope, and Healing (Second Edition) and the companion piece her new companion piece, Wisdom from Those in Care: Conversations, Insights, and Inspiration.
For more information visit www.congoldman.org.