Have you ever met someone and just ‘knew’ you were meant to be friends? That’s how I felt when meeting Judith Henry, author of “The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving”. Judith is an amazing writer who captured her journey of caring for her parents with tremendous depth and humor and weaves in a plethora of practical wisdom between the two. Learn more about Judith, what prompted her to write her book and how’s she’s continuing to walk beside ‘Dutiful Daughters’ every day.
Judith, tell us what you’ve been up to since writing and releasing your amazing book to the world?
Since writing “The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving”, I’ve been doing talks and workshops on subjects covered in the book. Depending on the needs of the audience, that might include an overview and explanation of legal documents to complete before they’re actually needed; ways to minimize frustrations with siblings while caregiving; survival tips to head off caregiver burnout; helpful strategies when caring for a family member with dementia; and what to expect when dealing with grief and loss.
What are a few of the most important lessons that caring for your parents has taught you about yourself?
About myself – first and foremost, I am my parents’ child. Experiencing both the dark and the light side of caregiving made me realize how much of them I carry inside me, even the not-so-great stuff. From both my mother and father, I inherited a dark, quirky sense of humor, which has gotten me through more tough times than I can count. From my mom, I got a no-nonsense approach to life, a sense of gratitude for what I have, and occasionally a mouth that should be washed out with soap. From my dad, I acquired a great love of reading and learning which has shaped my past, my present and my future. Unfortunately, I also have his impatience when things don’t run smoothly, which is, of course, most of the time.
Six years of caregiving also taught me some bigger life lessons. The first is how much our upbringing, our personalities, our parental relationships, and our fears and insecurities influence the way we give care. And because every family member is coming from that same position, it can create some real challenges.
The second is that it’s not always possible to make things better for the people we love, no matter how hard we try. When faced with that reality, sometimes the greatest gift is simply our presence.
What prompted you to write your book? Was there one compelling situation or conversation or emotion that prompted you or was it a compilation of situations, conversations and emotions?
Initially, I was just trying to process the tremendous amount of new information coming at me from all sides, in order to help my folks. It was also a way to make sense of the changes our family was going through as a result of my parents’ health concerns. After awhile, I realized that my experiences might help other adult children in similar situations. Let’s face it. Caregiving is not one long Hallmark moment. Much of the time it feels like a roller coaster ride in the dark where you never know what’s around the corner. So, I wanted people to feel less anxious, and more prepared for taking on this job. And this is a job, even if it’s done with great love.
I hear you provide writing workshops – what have you discovered in these workshops? What kinds of experiences do people have?
Writing is a very powerful form of self-care. Caregivers can often feel invisible because the focus is always on the person being cared for. So, writing gives you a voice. It can be a release valve for the thoughts and emotions that get tangled up inside your head, and at the same time, help clarify the choices and decisions you face when caring for a family member.
What everyone quickly discovers through the course of writing and sharing is that no matter who we’re taking care of, where we come from, or what our families of origin are, there are still common threads that bind us together.
Here are a few quotes from participants describing their experience.
“As I write something, I’m thinking about it, which leads to finding a solution to whatever is troubling me. It’s amazing.”
“It reminds me there are still things to be grateful for.”
“This is a wonderful and much-needed group.”
Initially, some people are intimidated by the idea of writing, but it’s not about the perfect sentence, and no one is there to critique the work. This is about writing from your heart. I hand out a suggested writing topic, and it’s a joy to see how each person addresses the subject. And what always strikes me is that no matter how much worry and heartache people are dealing with, everyone’s responses to each other are so kind and compassionate. It’s beautiful to see.
I believe so strongly in the benefits of these sessions that I’m currently designing an on-line writer’s workshop, and a virtual caregivers writing group community. If anyone is interested in more information as this evolves, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.