What I Wish I'd Known About What I Had to Give as a Caregiver: Eldercare Expert Beth Witrogen

The author of "Caregiving: The Spiritual Journey of Love, Loss, and Renewal" says the harshest critics of caregivers are often themselves.

In 1991, Beth Witrogen's father, Mel, called from Wichita with the news: Her mother, Elaine, had Lou Gehrig's disease. What her parents had thought was arthritis was in fact a rare form of ALS with overlapping dementia. At the time, Elaine Witrogen was caring for Mel, who was partially disabled as a result of a 25-year battle with recurring spinal cancer.

Beth Witrogen would have to be her parents' sole caregiver from halfway across the country, while she held down a high-pressure job at a San Francisco newspaper. As she relates in her book, Caregiving: The Spiritual Journey of Love, Loss, and Renewal, she was without financial resources, the Internet, an enlightened workplace, and any idea what she was doing, and her life went into a tailspin.

Looking back now at what she learned from the experience, however, logistics and financial issues aren't the first things that come to her mind.

"I wish I had known that I was always good enough, and that whatever I did, I did with love," says Witrogen, who has spoken before Congress on the subject of parental caregiving. "I didn't understand that my love was enough, but it was huge." And it wasn't her parents who were critical of her efforts, she says -- it was her.

"I wish I had known that it was all right to take care of myself," she adds. "That would have given me the energy I needed."

Witrogen -- a consultant, writer, and speaker -- says that it isn't always necessary for caregivers to go away in order to get away and replenish themselves -- you can do it throughout the day right in the thick of caregiving. "Take five minutes to be by yourself and be silent. Your mind may still chatter, but just turn off all externals -- the noise, the music, the television, all the input. Really detach from the voice that's multitasking and being critical, and breathe deeply."

Other simple tips: "Replace one of those Cokes that you use to get through the day with water. Have a piece of fruit. Just do one kind thing for yourself a day, and that will make a huge difference. Look in the mirror and instead of seeing how fat you are, see all that your body is doing. Tell yourself, 'I'm doing the best I can. That's good enough for now.' Be good enough for yourself."

Read the full interview with Beth Witrogen.

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