An Interview With Beth Witrogen McLeod


- Read an excerpt from her book (Caring for Aging Parents)...
- Read an excerpt from her book (The Nature of Loss)...
- Read ElderCare Online's review of her book...
- Read other reviews on Amazon.com...
- Visit Beth's website...
- Purchase "Caregiving: The Spiritual Journey of Love, Loss and Renewal"

Interview

!BETHWIT.bw.JPG (67120 bytes)    Beth Witrogen McLeod is the acclaimed author and lecturer on the journey of caregiving. He accomplishments include the long-distance caring for both of her parents and two Pulitzer Prize nominations. Her insights into the caregiving journey come from experience -- she knows that worthwhile personal growth comes from confronting and overcoming difficult challenges.

She is the author of "Caregiving: The Spiritual Journey of Love, Loss and Renewal" and a sought-after lecturer. Beth shares her wisdom not only on caregiving, but also on the broader spiritual issues of living fully in the second half of life, including optimal health, inner healing, and self-renewal.

Beth and I caught up on the phone on March 20, 2001 to discuss topics that have been on my mind since the March American Society on Aging conference in New Orleans and recent comments by members in our community forums. Beth's message is best digested over a period of time, although I knew from the first times I read her work, heard her speak, and spent time with her in conversation that her message was powerful and appropriate for all of us regardless of our stage in life.

ElderCare Online: When you were a caregiver for your parents, what were your greatest needs? How would you like to see those needs met for caregivers of the future?

Beth Witrogen McLeod: My biggest needs were understanding, education, and permission to be who I was and not to fit into the mold of how other people thought this should be done, especially when they had had no personal experience.

I always felt like some kind of pariah – that there was something wrong with me. Then I came to understand it was the healthcare system, the medical system, the social values system that were not supportive of this role.

I would like to see all of these areas addressed to take the stigma off of caregiving; to create policies that recognize that this as part of the natural life cycle; and to allow people to be themselves through education, inspiration and connections.

ECO: All too often I hear people refer to their caregiving role as unimportant, or to be expected of any spouse/child, or as nothing exceptional. One caregiver even compared it to housework. Is there a greater meaning to one's caregiving role than "just housework?"

Beth: It is considered "women’s work" and menial labor without value when in fact it has the potential for being the most exquisite growth experience that we can have as human beings. We live in a society that is so afraid of death and imperfection, wrinkled skin, hair loss, loss of sexual function, acne. Caregiving doesn’t fit into the way that we were socialized to be. So it is difficult to find meaning when society tells us that there is something wrong with the way that we are living our lives in general.

The heart and meaning of caregiving comes from focusing on the relationship – on staying grounded in the beauty of the connection to the person you are caring for. Something drew you to that person initially. And not losing sight of the fact that this is a spiritual journey. It is about priorities, values, principles, who we are at heart. How much are we willing to change to move with life and let go of our fears of loss and change? That’s where the meaning is to be discovered, to be created by each caregiver.

ECO: The vocabulary of caregiving is heavy on words of grief, exhaustion and loss. Where is the joy in caregiving?

Beth: The joy in caregiving is found in remaining connected to the beauty in life. It is found in choosing to remain open to the flow of life no matter what is presented to us. It is found in compassion. It is found in simple acts of kindness. It is found in the gratitude for being in the position of caring for someone who needs you. Most of all, it comes in appreciating yourself, valuing yourself, and trusting life.

ECO: We refer to individual care recipients as our "loved ones." How does one approach the role of caregiving when it is assumed under pressure, out of expectation, or out of guilt?

Beth: I don’t think they are mutually exclusive. You can love someone and you can be angry with someone. As long you don’t put them out of your heart, they are not mutually exclusive.

These feelings are normal. Where we go off course is when we take ourselves out of the caregiving equation. When we cease to value ourselves as much as we value our loved one. Especially under pressure, then the whole scenario becomes a dramatic burden and we get lost in our own self-pity, confusion, and fear.

The important thing to remember is that our perspectives and how we react to everything are choices that we make. We can choose to be victims and blame life, or we can take responsibility, accept what has been presented to us, and choose to do this mindfully.

Caregiving is not about being right or wrong. It is not a competition. It is about change and movement and growth.

ECO: Caregiving for a chronically ill individual is indeed draining physically, emotionally and financially. Yet from these challenges we can grow stronger. Please comment on your personal growth, or comment in general.

Beth: The reason I call caregiving a spiritual journey is because it forces us to learn to let go of everything but our soul’s desire, which is to stay connected to the beauty of life, to love oneself as fully as we love others, to trust life, and to know that the world is safe.

- Read an excerpt from her book (Caring for Aging Parents)...
- Read an excerpt from her book (The Nature of Loss)...
- Read ElderCare Online's review of her book...
- Read other reviews on Amazon.com...
- Visit Beth's website...
- Purchase "Caregiving: The Spiritual Journey of Love, Loss and Renewal"

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