July 28, 2023. A Friday afternoon. I'm swamped with my day job, selling branded promotional products, apparel, and merch. The orders slowdown in July, but toward the end of the month, customers begin planning for the fall. And they've been patiently waiting.
A week from now, my second book will go live on Amazon. This wasn't the plan, to publish another book so soon after my first. No, the plan was to promote Ten Days With Dad for two years, then begin writing a new book. But that was before I got the call from Alan Rubel and Mike Tenaglia.
Initially, I was only consulting Alan and Mike. They had a brilliant book idea, and I offered to help them. Since becoming an author part of my goal is to help others tell their stories, and even though Alan has published multiple books, this one was different. Two zoom calls into the process and they invited me to become the third "caregiver guy."
Between us, we have nearly thirty years of caregiving experience. Mike Tenaglia has been on his caregiving journey for more than ten years. In his experience, some family members will disappoint you, and some friends will rise up and support you in every meaningful way. Mike told me about his youth, growing up in a small village in Italy. Sometimes, the only way to survive was to rely on your neighbors. He lives on Cape Cod now, and yet he still relies on neighbors for help, depending on Lynda’s health and treatment schedule. Each time he asks for help, it is met with an enthusiastic and affirmative response. They never ask him for anything in return because they know, when the time comes, he will return the favor without hesitation.
Alan Rubel’s cancer caregiving journey lasted thirteen years. Regrettably, his wife, Sharon, succumbed to the dreadful disease four years ago. Alan found out that support and help isn’t limited by geographic boundaries. He and Mike Tenaglia met in the waiting room while their wives were in the recovery at Mass General Brigham. They have been close friends since, providing much-needed encouragement and support to one another, despite the more than three hours of driving distance between them.
That's how this book started—two friends wanting to share a common message of hope, humility, and love to fellow caregivers throughout the world. They accomplished that goal, and then some, for throughout The Greatest Burden, The Greatest Blessing are some amazing caregiving stories.
Yet you're also going to read about one of the most difficult parts of being a caregiver—care for the caregiver. How much stress, loneliness, fear, anxiety, mental and physical pain, and in some cases, financial burden, can we endure? As it turns out, more than we realize.
Neglecting your own personal care will undoubtedly impact the care you give to your loved one. The challenge for many isn’t going to be will you ask for help, but likely, will you accept help? Why? Because we’re stubborn and we don’t want to impose upon people. Yet more often than not, people want to help us.
We don’t always know the outcome when we answer the call to serve as a caregiver, yet we answer it anyway. Some of us don’t get to experience a happy ending, but that doesn’t mean our caregiving duties were for nothing. Don’t ever doubt your impact as a caregiver. The unconditional love you provided in that role was most definitely felt, appreciated, and cherished by the recipient, and although they may not have been able to express their gratitude, there’s no doubt in my mind that they will find a way to make it known.
But here’s the other side of the caregiving coin: it’s an opportunity to hit the reset button.
The reality is, most of us wait for tragedy to strike before realizing that we need to change. Whether that change is related to our health, mindset, relationships, or career—we don’t have to wait for a life altering event in order to change the narrative of our life’s story. None of us are obligated to be the person we were forty years ago, fourteen years ago, four years ago, or four weeks ago.
My father’s Alzheimer’s was anything but a blessing, but caring for him was. I got to know him better than at any point in my life, and it was during my caregiving journey that my perspective and outlook on life changed. I was able to let go of past regrets and grudges and excuses for my shortcomings; I was able to appreciate and understand how fragile life is and finally accept that we all have demons, flaws, and limitations, but none of them need to define who we are or who we want to be.
If there was a magic cure for Alzheimer’s and he were still alive today, I wouldn’t need his thanks for taking care of him during his time of greatest need—but he would give it to me anyway. In reply, I would tell my dad that I would do it all over again, without hesitation, because there’s almost nothing we can’t handle in the name of love.