Career or Dad?

One of my best friends. Mary Ellen Geist, gave up her career as a high-flying radio reporter to help her mother care for Mary Ellen’s father, who has Alzheimer’s. It’s a self-sacrificing thing she has done. She left NYC (previously, she was in SF where we were big buddies) to move to Michigan and live with little money as a full-time caregiver. A noble act, right? I can go on record as saying I always discouraged her from doing this.

Measure of the Heart

Back in the ’90s in SF, when we were single gals having great dinners and drinking red wine, she was a reporter, and I was a TV host and radio producer. She knew her dad was starting to change and would periodically say, “At some point I have to go home and help Mom.” I always said, “Don’t do it.”

I am greatly influenced by my own mom, who said that one should care for the next generation and not dwell in the past. Also, I worry about my child-free friend: when she is older, who will take care of her? Shouldn’t she be preparing for her own rainy day? When my own father’s health declined, none of us took him into our homes, except for a couple of days a week. My sisters and I have small children, and just a couple of days were a strain. We put him in assisted living.

Mary Ellen’s dad’s Alzheimer’s is far more advanced than my own dad’s, and she has the patience I do not. Every morning, she tells him to put on his shoes, take his medicine, and so forth. It’s a special person that can do this day in and day out and not go stark-raving mad. The old line about mothers having the hardest job is just NOT true. Unless it’s a mother with a special-needs child, the hardest job is taking care of someone who is not only never going to get better, but will get worse.

Typical to the charismatic and spirited person that is Mary Ellen, even when she planned to hide away in Michigan, the spotlight finds her. Through a few turns, her story was featured in the NY Times, and now she has published a book about her experience (which is ongoing), Measure of the Heart. None other than Oliver Sacks provides the forward; he was intrigued by Mary Ellen’s dad because even as her dad forgets all else in his life, he can still sing and knows the words to the songs that he has always loved.

For any sandwich generation person like myself, it is an interesting read. Her story is intriguing, but it also makes you ask yourself questions about your own choices.  She was recently on the Today show and she made Kathie Lee Gifford cry.