August 25, 2009

LKL Web Exclusive: Leeza Gibbons on Family Caregiving

Posted: 11:24 AM ET

By Leeza Gibbons, TV/Radio Personality and ProducerLEEZA

Chances are if you are a family caregiver, you either don’t know it, don’t want to know it or you are just so overwhelmed that you could crack at the very suggestion that you should “Take Your Oxygen First”. Yet, there are 50 million husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters out there taking care of a family member or loved one. And here’s the deal….they are dying! We call them the family first responders...just like the heroes we see running into a burning building or toward the scene of an accident when all others are running away, these courageous caregivers show up when families are falling apart, emotions are frayed and finances are unraveling. It’s a noble thing, no doubt…in fact, I think it is one of the single most powerfully defining moments in our lives as human beings, BUT there is a type of martyrdom that is rampant in this group and falling on the sword seems way easier than pulling out a figurative oxygen mask to begin to breathe deeply.

That’s why we wrote our book, "Take Your Oxygen First," to remind caregivers of those instructions the flight attendants give on an airplane. Just like on a plane, in a health crisis, you only have a short time in which to take action. If you put your mask on first, you will be alive, conscious and have enough sanity and energy to help someone else. If you don’t, chances are the two of you will be at risk. I know at first it’s counter-intuitive to think of yourself when someone you love is suffering. The reality is, though, if you don’t nourish yourself; mind, body, soul and spirit, your loved one and you will decline faster.

It’s called compassion fatigue, and my co-authors, friends and colleges Dr. Jamie Huysman and Dr. Rosemary Laird know it well. As the Executive Director of the Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation, Dr. Jamie is a psychologist who gives that perspective in our book. Dr. Laird is an MD, a gerontologist, and she gives the medical side of being oxygen–deprived. My Dad, brother, sister, sister-in-law and my kids and I give the family perspective of what is at risk when we don’t take care of ourselves while helping someone we love navigate through a chronic illness or disease.

READ MORE of Gibbons' post HERE

Leeza Gibbons is a TV/Radio Personality and Producer and Co-founder of the Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation and Leeza’s Place,  Her commentary is a LARRY KING LIVE Web exclusive and her thoughts are her own.

Filed under: Health • Larry King Live • Leeza Gibbons • LKL Web Exclusive

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Janine   August 25th, 2009 11:08 pm ET

I was channel-surfing when I stumbled upon the show tonight. As the cliche goes; timing is everything...My timing was perfect, for I tuned-in just as Larry King was making mention of the Leeza Gibbons article on his web-site. The topic was of great interest to me, as I have been Care-Giving since October 17, 1980... This topic touched home, way too close... I've taken care of parents, my dear sister, in-laws; both pre & post divorce, & am currently tending to my significent-other who is recovering from a catastrophic accident involving 16 broken bones & over 100 fractures. Maybe our destiny's are predetermined? Perhaps I am the "perpetual" care-giver? At any rate, the article & its suggestions are right-on-target. As a matter of fact, I could have written the book myself, as Ms. Gibbons thoughts, suggestions, observations & opinions are "All" golden in my eyes. Folks on the outside of a crisis, just don't get it! Which amazes me... Why is it that some people rise to the occasion & most don't? Why is it that the care-givers are often forgotten about in the big picture? I hope many folks have a Eurecka moment after reading this article... I hope they offer a big hug to those in their lives that truly are "Super-Humans" as most care givers truly are...
I'm glad I tuned-in to the show tonight! Otherwise I would have missed the mention of the Gibbons article!

Carol Gallagher   August 26th, 2009 1:02 am ET

Hi : I just felt the need to share my story. My son (a teenager at the time) and I took care of my husband for 8 years before he died. He suffered terribly from diabetes. He was the strongest man I have ever met. He suffered through many strokes, mini strokes, the loss of a leg and finally kidney failure and dialaysis.

I must confess there were more times than I can recall that I felt sorry for myself. This was such a strong man who always took care of me, his princess. He was forced to quit work in his prime. How could he not take care of his family? I was forced to quit a job at a bank that I loved and had worked for, for many years.

We were unable to have children of our own but God did bless us with the most wonderful son in the world. The story of how we got him is too long but toof un and loving to someday not be told.

Our son, Sean, loved his father so. I remember so many nights we spent in the hospital that Sean would find an empty hospital room to make sure his homework was done but still had time to viist with "his dad".

Finally after 8 years of fighting for life, my husband, the love of my life, took his last breath. While there were many years I felt sorry for myself, and of course our son, I would give anything today to see him look into my eyes each night as he lay in his hospital bed watching my lips as we said our prayers.

The first five years after his death were unbearable. My heart hurt more than anyone could imagine. One day visiting our doctor for a routine examination I started crying. He looked at me and said "Carol, you are not crying for Don, but crying for yourself". Those were the majic words for me.

While I still miss my man terribly, I have begun to go on with my life which is what I know my "man" would have wanted. I have begun dating, not the same as when you are 18 but nice in a different way.

My final comments would be life is short. Love as if there is no tomorrow and you will be blessed.

Carol Gallagher

Robin   August 26th, 2009 1:44 am ET

I was also watching Larry King when he made mention of the Care-giving article by Leeza Gibbons. I have been taking care of my Mother since 2007 after she suffered a right brain stroke, she now has progressive Dementia as well as her permanent deficits from the CVA. I remember sitting in the Rehabilitation Hospital reading a stroke survivor magazine which stated that after this kind of event your family and friends will abandon you. I remember thinking to myself that this would not happen to me, my family and friends would never do that!!! As time went on, that is exactly what happened. It is so sad that people are so consumed with their own lives that they forget what it is to be compassionate and loving to the person that assumes the caregiver role. Through this journey, fatigue has become my constant companion and regardless of what life brings your way, you must continue to be the one that is there for your loved one. I can count on one hand the people that have been here for me, my husband, my dear friend karen and a few other special people. My faith keeps me going and I tell myself that this time shall pass. I would like to suggest to people reading this, that if they know someone that is a caregiver to a loved one, a phone call asking how things are going, really does mean the world to us, because you do feel extremely isolated at times. I worry about my health because of how stressful this can be, and I try very hard to take good care of myself, however, that can prove to be extremely difficult because there are only so many hours in day. Resources are limited to caregivers and you have to extremely proactive verses reactive, and of course that is time consuming as well. I agree with all the suggestions in the article about self care and how important it is to care for oneself because it is the only way to stay strong enough to give the care to your loved one. I would encourage anyone reading this to write a note, place that phone call, it is so important to know that other people care. I am 53 years old and have experienced many things in life, but I can honestly say that being a care-giver is the most difficult challenge, primarly because few people are ever prepared for this type of situation. My heart goes out to each and everyone who is a care-giver, I agree that we become the forgotten ones! I know in my heart that regardless of how difficult this is I will have the last memories that others will not share with my Mom. Love to all that walk this path!!! Robin W. Boise Idaho.

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