Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Split Personality Required to Be an Executive AND a Caregiver

Ever since I met Gary in 1985, I have been focused on my career. We started together selling campground memberships/timeshare and later, oil wells. We were incredibly successful with Network Marketing.  I worked as an Admissions Advisor, Director of Admissions, Corporate Director of Admissions, Associate Director, Campus President, Provost and now Executive Director.  I like to think that all were promotions or a better place.

Until about seven years ago, Gary was my husband, mentor and teacher.  He taught me about sales, reinforced integrity, and taught me how to think critically in every situation.  I am a free spirit by nature so learning the skill of using my left brain was often tough. He hung in there and eventually, I became an Executive.  While he was proud of me, he also hated that in the latter years I had surpassed his success.

When it comes to Gary, I am not sure what came first, his failure or his Dementia. He started projects that were never finished.  Was it boredom or was he hiding a weakness in his thinking? 

I remember vividly coming home from my former College one day when I was facing a particularly difficult day of downsizing.  We were so close as a work family that it was devastating to know that I had to ask someone to leave.  I asked for advice from Gary.  He looked me squarely in the eye and said, "Honey, I don't know what to tell you.  I have nothing left to teach learned all I have to teach and you are better than me." 

On one hand I was thrilled and at the same time crushed.  While I watched him pour himself a triple whiskey and coke, I made a decision. He often begged me to quit my job and stay home to work with him.  I decided that no matter what, I had to continue with my success because someday I may need to be the strong one.  In retrospect, my wisdom then surpassed my situation. I had no concept then of what I would be facing with his dementia that was to come.

If you have never had to decide between work and family, I hope you never do.  I was challenged with learning to balance the 50+ hour job  and taking care of things at home.  Even when Gary was still working, I spent weekends managing the books, troubleshooting the computers, marketing the current product or designing a campaign of some sort.  We worked hard and we played hard. 

I remember many nights coming home from work after a long day and spending 5-6 more hours in the office.  We made a lot of money.  We lost just as much as Gary started failing and took over the business as I focused on my job.

Before we moved from Elk Grove, there were times when I would have a crisis at work and would call him to say I would be late.  The situation was always the same.  I would ask if he could feed Diva (our beagle) and start dinner until I got home.  Many times he did and many times I would find him at the computer having not eaten nor started anything.

When our accountant told us to short sale our house due to the price being nearly $300k under what we owed, I really started seeing his problems.  He could not make decisions without significant input.  He had hired a team to raise enough money to build a Dementia Care facility.  He would drive around Elk Grove to find an appropriate tract and call the same broker he had called three times before never remembering that he had.

All the while, I was running a college and doing the best I could.  Is that an excuse?  Maybe, maybe not.

Now, seven years later, Gary is never to be alone for fear of him falling, burning the house with the stove or walking out to never return.  He goes to day care five days per week and must have a caregiver at all times until I come home. 

Due to my years of compartmentalizing home and work, I can focus on work while at work.  In fact, having to escape thinking of him has made me a stronger Director.  I immerse myself in Profit and Loss Statements, team building and  providing a quality education to the near 1600+ students who are working on their B .S. degrees. 

While at home, I must focus on him.  I must start to plan for the future.  How will I afford the long term care that he is going to need?  I need to remember to tell the agency what days I will need someone late because I have a ceremony or dinner, etc.  I cannot afford to miss a beat in either role.

Sometimes it is like having a split personality.  I don't have that affliction but could function well if I needed to do so.

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