In January I celebrated my 30th anniversary as the leader of Share the Care. When I started in 1989 I was 28 years old. I had a degree in Gerontology, the study of aging, and a personal mission to do good work as a public servant. While I was committed to serve those who were older and their caregivers, I was neither old nor had I ever been a caregiver. Oh my, the things I have learned in these 30 years...
In the early years I learned that people don't want you to fix all of their problems or challenges. They just want a little help and to feel connected to a community of people like themselves. Getting a break to take care of themselves may seem a small thing to people looking from the outside in -yet - so many times over the years I have heard that it made all the difference. Connecting with others either through support groups, educational forums and retreats creates the opportunity to support and learn from others while gaining the strength to face the future. I have seen lifelong friendships develop between caregivers who were surprised and grateful to learn they were not alone.
More recently, I have realized that I have changed. I am no longer too young to personally identify with the needs of caregivers. In fact, I joined the "club" myself several years ago when I cared for my mother through her battle with terminal colon cancer. This experience brought me to a new level of understanding about why families care for those they love and why there are so many emotions involved. I can now say I have been there.
Four years ago I married the man of my dreams, Patrick. When we were dating I said to him that because of our ages, then 54 and 57, we were not just choosing a life partner we were choosing our future caregiver. Definitely not how my mind was working when I met and married my first husband in my twenties.
So 30 years is a long time but also a time of personal evolution. My personal circle of life. I have learned so much from so many over these years. I have been enriched by knowing hundreds, possibly thousands, of caregivers who have shown me what love is. I have been privileged to work with hundreds of the most caring and professional staff in the world. I have been given the opportunity to help to build programs that enhance quality of life for so many. And I'm not done yet!
The biggest lesson of all has been that people are, for the most part, good. They want to do the right thing. They care for people out of love not just responsibility. As my favorite feel good song, Nature Boy concludes, "The greatest thing, I ever learned, was just to love and be loved in return." Now to spend the next 30 years living out that lesson!