Jennifer O’Brien helps people talk about caregiving and end of life. She encourages compassionate, real conversation through her book, The Hospice Doctor’s Widow: A Journal, where she shares her story of caregiving through collages and writings.
After years of caring for people with serious illness as a physician, Jennifer’s husband, Bob Lehmberg, was diagnosed with a stage IV, metastatic cancer. But caregiving for the man who had made a 40-year career of caregiving as a physician was not easy.
I wondered, How do you be normal and allow the normal feelings that arise in any relationship when they are dying and you are going to live?
She related a funny story or two in that regard and one particularly ugly spat early on gave her an aha--she would never allow herself to go there again because she was responsible for the memories she would create during this time. Preventable regrets is the flip side.
Caring for Bob made her a better person, Jennifer said.
"A lot of what caregiving is about, is that you're self aware, hopefully, but you're also managing your future survivorship."
One of the first things Jennifer said to me before our call was, at the end of life comes death. How true and how few of us want to face that never mind prepare for it.
She stressed the importance of having the conversations now, before the illness, the accident, or the random act that finds you at the mercy of a hospital or ER.
Or, if you want to have a little fun with the subject, she suggests The Death Deck. I'm adding it to my Christmas family games night.
Either way Jennifer said, "these conversations are as intimate as it gets as far as I'm concerned, to be the one who talks to somebody about what they want and don't want, at the end of their life, and then have that great honor of helping to carry that out."
There are fifty three million caregivers in the United States, family unpaid caregivers, and that's a number that is pre-Covid19, that number is only going up.
If you are not currently a caregiver, you know someone who is. You know someone who has a spouse, a parent, a sibling, or a friend with a life-limiting condition and is struggling to feel supported and whole while caring for and ultimately losing their loved one. Caregivers are the ubiquitous, unsung heroes of our time, each of us is one, knows one or will soon become one.
Jennifer's book, which I bought for myself just to experience, would make a thoughtful gift for someone in that role of caregiver.
Don't let the topic put you off, this was a light hearted, fun, and important conversation.