When my Dad suffered a debilitating stroke in 1993, my mother became his caregiver. It was before the age of the Internet, email and cellphones. There were few services for seniors at that time, and if there were any caregiver support programs, we weren’t aware of them.
My parents lived on a farm 6 miles northwest of McPherson, Kansas, a town of about 14,000 people. In order to cope with her isolation, loneliness and the emotional stress of caregiving, my mother wrote letters to me in which she described everything she was experiencing and exactly how she felt about it.
To me, each letter was like an episode of M*A*S*H: There was always something that made me laugh, something that made me cry and something that proved it is possible to find peace and joy in the midst of loss and pain.
In 2004, I was asked to speak at our church on Mother’s Day about mother-daughter relationships. I decided I wanted people to know who my mother was in her own words. To get inspired, I went out to the garage, took down a cardboard box my husband had labeled “Letters from Madelyn” and started reading.
When I gave my presentation at church, I told a few stories and read excerpts from one letter I thought was particularly poignant and funny. People came up to me afterward and exclaimed, “You have to write a book!” I knew they were right because everyone seemed to relate to what I had said, so I started writing my book the next day.
My mother was not a saint. Like most caregivers, she frequently struggled with anger, fear, frustration, guilt, depression and grief. Coping with caregiver stress is something many people struggle with, although it’s hard sometimes to remember that you are not alone. In this short video, you can watch me read from the letter that started it all, and see how developing an “Attitude of Creative Indifference” helped my mother survive her six-and-a-half-year caregiving journey. Perhaps it can help you on your journey as well.
Elaine K. Sanchez is an author, speaker and co-founder of CaregiverHelp.com, an online caregiver support program. The second edition of her book, “Letters from Madelyn, Chronicles of a Caregiver” is available at a discount for pre-orders on Amazon. It will be in bookstores May 17. Elaine frequently delivers keynotes, workshops and trainings at healthcare and caregiving conferences across the country. You can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.