Like much of my family life, the religion of my childhood was far from normal.
I was raised in a religion based on faith healing. It rejects medicine, doctors, hospitals; bans alcohol, tobacco and drugs; and encourages an unhealthy level of self-righteousness.
My parents divorced when I was eleven and I divorced myself from that religion, beginning a twenty-five year spiral into alcoholism: a life of half measures and wanderlust, unfulfilled careers and relationships. But I never stopped believing in God. Now, through my journey to the home of self, I discover spirituality.
And a new purpose: caretaking. My 81-year-old mother is challenged by Alzheimer’s. She’s lost her entire sense of time and space but remains rigidly devout. As her primary caregiver, in an ironic twist of fate, I learn to respect this religion and accept her as she is.
When I was seven, my family adopted a dog. Part Setter and Saint Bernard, he was huge. We named him Jack. He was the sibling I never had.
Jack passed away a decade later, helping my mother through a divorce and the unexpected departure of a daughter. She never had another dog. Until Louie.
She inherited Louie, an elderly beagle, when her husband moved to a nursing home. But as her dementia became more serious, she couldn’t keep up with Louie’s needs.
Instead of dropping him at a shelter, I contacted the only beagle rescue in the state and within three days, Louie was adopted by a young couple with a hundred-acre farm. His new people greeted him excitedly, along with his new sister, another beagle.
Letting go of Louie was heartbreaking, a bittersweet reminder of that sly thief, Alzheimer’s.
As caregiver to my parents, life has changed dramatically. Project deadlines and sales goals are a distant memory; estate planning and Alzheimer’s support groups now replace corporate jets and board meetings.
But my true purpose in caregiving goes beyond human boundaries.
Besides elderly parents, I take care of old houses, maintaining my mother’s 150-year-old farmhouse, winterizing my father’s island cottage. I volunteer as a trail steward, patrolling and caring for two-hundred-plus miles of local trails.
And through volunteer work at an animal shelter, I care for homeless pets. From that, springs an unexpected petsitting side job. Caring for my own elderly dog, who passed last year at age fourteen, gives me experience in pet hospice care. Animal welfare articles I write encourage animal advocacy.
Taking care of people, places and pets: with this simple message, the essence of humility emerges.