The First Lady Caregivers

By on February 19, 2012

By Sherri Snelling –

Photo: Numinaimages

On President’s Day, we honor two great men who have led this country through its creation and one of its most trying times – namely George Washington and Abraham Lincoln respectively.

But, this holiday, I am going to celebrate the women – three of our First Ladies who have led the crusade for caregivers. Hillary Clinton, Nancy Reagan and Rosalynn Carter are passionate advocates for our nation’s 65 million caregivers because they have taken the caregiving journey themselves.

Hillary Clinton – The Congressional Caregiving Champion

It was a poignant moment when I read last November 1 that Hillary Clinton had lost her 92-year-old mother, Dorothy Rodham. Poignant for two reasons:

1)    November 1 marks the beginning of National Family Caregiver Month

2)    Clinton had been a long-time advocate of the nation’s caregivers when she was a Senator from New York. She supporting several pieces of proposed legislation that offered more services to support those family members who are providing 80 percent of the long-term care to keep a loved one living at home as long as possible.

Her mother’s illness, a topic that was kept private from the invasive world of 24/7 news media, made Clinton one of those caregivers she had championed so often in Congress. In an interview from Clinton’s campaign days for the Democratic presidential nomination, she credited her mother with giving her the tools — and toughness — to enter politics. In the end, her mother had also given her daughter the tools to be a compassionate caregiver.

Nancy Reagan – The Loving, Long Good-bye to a Spouse with Alzheimer’s

Photo: Richard Guinon/Dreamstime

Nancy and Ronald Reagan’s touching affection for each other was evident in the letter former President Reagan wrote to tell the world he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. In this letter, President Reagan not only helped shine his celebrity spotlight on a disease which many Americans did not understand, but he also highlighted the concern he had for Nancy who would be caring for him. He understood the difficult emotional toll it would take on his wife and as the disease progressed, he did not even recognize her.

As the caregivers of today’s more than five million Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease know, Nancy lived the last 10 years of her husband’s life known to dementia caregivers as “the long good-bye.” While Nancy had the resources to care for her husband in ways most Americans do not, the emotional toll it took on her cannot be ignored.

What was perhaps most heartwarming was that the strained relationship Nancy had with her stepchildren and with her own son and daughter, actually improved over the course of President Reagan’s disease diagnosis and decline. Family dynamics are sometimes difficult to navigate during caregiving and can lead to added stress and strife. But, in this instance, it brought a family closer together which is one of the gifts that can come from caregiving.

Since President Reagan’s passing, Nancy has become a passionate advocate for Alzheimer’s disease awareness and education and especially advocating for the research around embryonic stem cells that can hopefully lead to a cure. She also speaks about her personal caregiving journey and the need to recognize caregivers as a crucial part of the “care team” around a loved one.

Rosalynn Carter – Caring for Parents On Both Ends of Her Life

Photo: U.S. Government

Long recognized as one of the pioneers of the caregiving movement, Rosalynn Carter is known for her famous description of the life event of caregiving in America:

You have been a caregiver
You are a caregiver
You will be a caregiver
Or someone will be caring for you

In her book, Helping Yourself Help Others – A Book for Caregivers, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter writes, “We can learn to approach caregiving as a blessing as well as a challenging task.”

She knows of what she speaks firsthand:  Rosalynn was only 12 years old when her father was diagnosed with terminal leukemia. As the eldest daughter, she helped care for her ailing father and supported her mother by also caring for her younger siblings. She took up caregiving again for several relatives with cancer after she left the White House and most recently was caregiver for her mother who died in 2000 at age 94.

Rosalynn’s gift to caregivers comes from a lifetime of understanding the challenges – emotional, physical and financial – that accompany caring for a loved one. A long-time devoted and determined advocate for those Americans with mental health issues, Rosalynn Carter is also behind the founding of the Rosalynn Carter Institute (RCI) for Caregiving at Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, Georgia.

The mission of the RCI is to establish local, state and national partnerships with organizations focused on quality, long-term home and community based services to help caregivers. The RCI activities include a variety of advocacy, academic, and awards and scholarship programs. While many of the caregiver programs are Georgia-based, these programs are examples that help serve as models for nationwide caregiver support, education and training.

While women may be seen as “the power behind the throne,” these First Ladies are proof that women also put the heart into caregiving.

 

©2012 Sherri Snelling

Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance “self care” while caring for a loved one. She is the former chairman of the National Alliance for Caregiving and is currently writing a book about celebrities who have been caregivers. You can find more information at:  www.caregivingclub.com.

About Sherri Snelling

Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance “self care” while caring for a loved one. She is executive producer and host of a new caregiving TV series, Handle with Care on RLTV and co-producer of the Silvers Summit at the annual Consumer Electronics Show. Sherri is a consultant, media contributor, and frequent guest speaker on the nation’s Baby Boomers and their caregiving role as the “The Sandwich Generation.” Website: www.caregivingclub.com

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The First Lady Caregivers