Leeza Gibbons, (Entertainment Tonight, The Celebrity Apprentice Winner-2015, NY Times best-selling author, Speaker …and caregiver) called my show for family caregivers to share her insights learned as a caregiver —and to encourage fellow caregivers.
Watch the hilarious pre-show with Peter and John
Peter: Welcome back to the show for caregivers, about caregivers, hosted by a caregiver …I am Peter Rosenberger bringing you 30 years of experience to help you stay strong and healthy while you take care of someone who is not.
John, we have a great guest here with us today. She’s known all over the world from Entertainment Tonight, The Celebrity Apprentice—but for THIS show, she is a fellow caregiver, and we are thrilled to have Leeza Gibbons here with us, she’s calling in. Leeza, thank you for being on the show …welcome!
Peter: And, I wanted to mention …we’re both South Carolinians …and we don’t have to worry about translation, because if I happen to go off the rails here and get real “country,” Leeza will be able to understand me, John.
John: I had no idea …
Leeza: “Oh, I got Chu! I got Chu!”
John: The last guest we had on was from Boston.
Peter: And it was “wicked bad!”
Peter: We are thrilled to have you here. Leeza …thank you for sharing your heart with us, and your story …and your passion to help fellow caregivers. This show is all about strengthening family caregivers; the need is great. You more than most know how difficult this journey is. Tell us a little about your journey as a caregiver.
Leeza: I went into it kicking and screaming. I was a very reluctant recruit. I think that many of us don’t willingly put the sweater on. I’m like, “Oh this doesn’t fit me; these are not my clothes.” I guess I was waiting for someone to send me a greeting card. Which, you know, it never arrives in the mail, does it”?
Peter: No [Laughing]
Leeza: “Congratulations! Welcome into the club!” It’s just never like that. I kept thinking that our culture would catch up with the need that you guys speak about so wonderfully and are so lovingly supportive of …but it’s just …we’re getting better, and the conversations are getting stronger and more powerful, but it’s just not that way. And it wasn’t that way for me.
I tended to um …I isolated, and our whole family did. When my mother got Alzheimer’s disease after being a caregiver for her mother, you would think that we had a blueprint. We didn’t. We all went to our corners and licked our wounds. I got “over-busy,” that’s where I went to hide. My brother went into denial, my sister got depressed, and my dad pretty much closed the door with a bottle of red wine. We said, “Wait a minute!”
“Wait. What can we do? What can we do? If we’re acting this way, everyone must act this way. What can we possibly add or contribute to this narrative?”
And so, we created what we wished we had, and that became Leeza’s Care Connection …and that’s our community for caregivers.
Peter: Well, and like most caregivers, we tend to learn it the hard way …it’s on the job training. There is very little blueprint. I remember a counselor once told me, he said, “Look, you know, Peter …I’d recommend a book for you to read …but you’re the guy to write it.”
And you, I’m thirty years now (plus) into this, and it is a brutal journey …I often refer to myself as the “crash-test dummy” of caregivers, ‘cause if you can fail at it …I’ve failed at it. But, in this thing, you and your family pulled together—I want to throw out a couple of things, Leeza, and get your read on it. I talk about three “I’s” that every caregiver deals with:
- We lose our independence
- We isolate
- We lose our identity
I can’t tell you over the years how many people have asked me about my wife, but I can count the ones who asked about me. And …how does that resonate with you …Those three “I’s” …Independence, Identity, and Isolation?
Leeza: Well, it’s interesting when you say, “How many have asked about me?” That’s a big one with the groups that we talk with—and was with me, too. You know, and after a while, I think if you held up the mirror, you wouldn’t even see yourself in it. You know? It would almost be like there would be no reflection there, because you get so accustomed to even feeling like you don’t exist. You know, when we talk about how imperative it is to take your oxygen first, you begin to realize in your caregiving mode …you don’t even take deep enough breaths to think that you can even fill up your heart and soul. It’s almost like you’re not even giving yourself credit for being a whole person. So, I think that’s real for almost everybody.
For me, I was working at like one quarter of what I had to offer, because I think most people would say, “What does this have to with everybody if you’re not a caregiver?”
But we know the percentage of the people who are offering care …also in the workplace. And we know that they’re not able to work at full steam. And we know that they’re coming in late and calling in sick, and not able to focus when they’re there. All of the things that are happening and how’s it affecting the bottom line across America. We know this is everybody’s problem, and we all need to care about it more. And that if we would just help that person find the “I” back again …that everybody wins! But, we sure aren’t getting there fast, are we?
Peter: No, we’re not. There are 65 + million of us. Almost half of us are in the workforce …you referenced those statistics, and they’re amazing statistics. I’ve been saying for years, “If you love someone, you’re going to be one. If you live long enough, you’re going to need one.”
In your case, when you interact with these caregivers, and all the things you do, do you find that they have a hard time speaking in first person …first person singular? So, when you ask a caregiver “How are you doing?” “Well, she just got home from the hospital last night…” or “He had a bad night…,” and they can’t speak …when they finally get them to say something in their own voice, that’s when the tears come and the stammering come. Is that pretty consistent with what you’ve seen?
Leeza: That’s very consistent. Very consistent. And when you try to tell them, “You’re doing a good job.” You know, it’s very hard for them to hear it …to get credit and validation. That’s really been the most exciting thing for me …is to, be able to turn that back around for people who offer care. I think they’re the real heroes of our culture. We’ve got all this focus on the health care system. Well, “Hello!” The caregivers are the health care system. That’s the health care system. That’s it.
John: Write that one down!
Peter: Yeah …write that one down!
John: We talk about this on the show a lot …we don’t give nearly enough credit for showing up.
Peter: Well, that’s the thing, we caregivers beat ourselves without mercy. And you talk about this a lot with Senior Helpers and the caregivers you interact with …about guilt. And we just flog ourselves. So, when you try to give some kind of affirmation, we’re so wrapped up in guilt …that we can’t. And there’s no problem so bad, that we can’t make it worse with a little bit more guilt. And so, one of the things I’m on a mission to do is help caregivers accept the fact that you don’t have to judge yourself exclusively by your job performance …you can look at your attendance. And our attendance is spot-on perfect; we show up every day …however we drag in …we still are showing up and getting the job done to the best of our abilities.
Talk about the guilt that caregivers struggle with …I know you’ve seen this, you’ve done this in your own life, and you’ve seen this with all the people that you’ve interacted with. What are some common things …and what are some things that you’re saying to it?
Leeza: Well, my mother always said to me, “Show up, do your best …let go of the rest.” You do have to get scored on the showing up and on trying. “Are you trying?” Trying doesn’t mean you’re are going to get it in the basket. Sometimes you just exasperated. But you did show again, right? You did show up the next day and say, “Ok, I’m here again!”
Peter: Everyday [Laughing]
Leeza: Every day. “Let’s go I’m what you’ve got!”
Peter: Bleary-eyed and dragging …but I’m here!
Leeza: And I think you are absolutely so right about that. And the other piece that I think is so hard is why I do this work with senior helpers: Asking for help is difficult. We don’t have a skill-set for it. We think, somehow, it’s going to rob our souls. We think we don’t get to go to heaven. We don’t get a gold star. We’re going to be judged. My whole personal mantra is, “Breathe, Believe, and Receive.”
It’s the receiving part that’s tough for us. But once we can let go, you know we’re so tightly wound, once we can open up and let somebody else in, and see us, “warts and all,” and to say “Wow, I need some help here.” Then, we can exhale …and things get better. And I think it’s the highest form of humanity both to give help and receive it. Sometimes I just say, “Stop achieving and start receiving.”
And, as caregivers, we’re like those “sit on the front-row kind of students,” where it’s like “Call on me, call on me, I can do it, I can do it, I can do it. It doesn’t matter that I have like so much going on!”
The best thing you can do right now is to say, “I’ve got too much to do …help me!” And delegate one little thing. And look what will happen. And we do teach others how to treat us …by the way we treat ourselves.
With my dad, when he had a heart attack; he had open-heart surgery …and the next day he had colon surgery …we had to have a strategy. Look, I literally wrote the book on Fierce Optimism, but that wasn’t a plan. And my brother and sister lived very close to him, like within fifteen minutes; I’m the long-distance caregiver …we all needed help. And so, we brought in someone from Senior Helpers, you know they provide in-home care. We had the family caregivers, the in-home care provider that we coordinated with the doctors …we had them to come help us with the meds, the meal preparation, with driving errands. We had a strategy. We had to have help.
So, some people just need a peace of mind visit. Maybe they need someone to drive errands, someone just to help with the laundry … it’s a customizable thing. But I’ve seen it make a huge difference in the lives of family caregivers and their loved ones.
Peter: You know a reporter once asked me, he said well …it wasn’t a religious interview …it was just a reporter just talking to me … he said,” Well, what would Jesus do as a caregiver?”
I said, “I don’t know what He would do …I’ll tell you what He did do. He delegated. He had John take care of His mother …while He was hanging on the cross. I thought, “If Jesus can do that, then I can ask for help, too!”
And I’m all about trying to equip caregivers with the courage and the vocabulary of asking and identifying what help is …and I really try …and I’m going to run this by you and get your thoughts by this and then I’ll let you go because I know you’re very busy, but it’s a …when people say, “Well let me know if there’s something I can do.” And I try so hard to get people to stop saying that phrase. And I say, “Don’t ask a caregiver, “well …let me know if there’s something I can do for you,’ because now I have think of something for YOU to do.’”
Instead, offer something very specific. “Can I send someone over to clean the gutters.” Because nobody thinks it’s a good idea to for a caregiver to be on the roof cleaning gutters. Or, you know, “I’m at the grocery store, can I pick this up for you?” And …that kind of stuff …the more specific …there’s riches in the niches …the more specific that you get, the more you’re going to be able to be a source of help, and a real blessing to people to do that. How does that resonate with you?
Leeza: I am so with you on that! I’m so with you, and I’m glad you brought it up! Because, that’s the thing! First of all, no caregiver has time to think of what you can do to help them …. they’re not going to come up with any darn thing.
Peter: …and they’re not going to trust you to do it right …or stay with it, a lot of times.
Leeza: …or stay with it! So, I do the same thing. I always say, “Don’t even ask. Just say, ‘I’m making a casserole …I made two, I’m dropping one off for you!’”
John: Thank you…Thank you!
Leeza: [Say], “I’m on my way to the dry-cleaners, how about put your bag out by the front porch, and I’ll just pick up your bag on my way?”
Exactly those things!
Peter: Beautiful. Beautiful
Leeza: Just do it …do it …do it. If it’s wrong, they’ll probably tell you it’s wrong. Just stick your foot in it anyway.
Peter: [Laughing] By the way …we’re all about sticking our foot in something …
John: Peter …don’t be a heel!
Peter: [Laughing] I don’t know if you know this, but my wife is a double-amputee, and we have a prosthetic limb outreach in West Africa, so John and I are always making leg jokes here. And Gracie does, too, in all fairness. I mean, I’ve seen her take her leg off and scratch her ear at a stop sign with people …and they just freak out!
Leeza: You did not just say that!
Peter: [Laughing] Oh, I did say that!
John: Peter one time attached a dog to her wheelchair, okay? There’s video …I’ve seen it!
Peter: Well, Jeff Foxworthy and I did a whole thing of, “You might be a caregiver if …” to let people know …because some people don’t identify that. You know …like, “If you have a professional carpet cleaner on retainer …you’re probably a caregiver.” Or, “…if you hooked up your dog to your wife’s wheelchair …just to see if it would work”—and it did, and I have footage!
Peter: You know …I mean, we’re trying …what we want to do is let caregivers know …first off, “it’s OK to laugh. It’s OK to come together and be joyful. It’s OK to, like you said, “breathe!” I do martial arts, and breathing is a part of everything we do. We [caregivers] are trying to “white-knuckle” this thing, and I know …in the closing thing …if you could say anything to your younger self, when you did come “kicking and screaming into this,” what would that be? Because there are so many people right now listening, who are in that same place. They’re in that place where they’re screaming going in to this. And they’re just terrified. They got the phone call …or whatever’s happened. What would you say to them?
Leeza: I think it’s like what my mother said …where we went earlier, you know “Show up …do your best …let go of the rest.”
Peter: I love that phrase
John: Aww …. Kudos to Mom!
Leeza: My mother lined us up when she got Alzheimer’s; she lined up the entire family and she said, “Look, when I’m kick and scream and can no longer call you by your name, just know that’s the disease talking and not me. And, I do not want to go live with you, Leeza. I don’t want to live with your brother. I don’t want to live with your sister. And you have got to tell Daddy when it’s time to let me go.”
She gave us our marching orders. It was unbelievable. She made us strong as a family. She was amazing!
Peter: What a tremendous gift of a parent to that! And, I’m sorry that you’ve had to go through these things, but I’m not sorry for what you’ve learned through it. And I’m not sorry for what you’ve become through this process …because you’ve become such an inspiration and blessing to so many. And here you are taking the time to call our show and share some of those things. Thank you for being such an encouragement to all us here!
John: Yeah …well the lessons that you shared are not just for caregivers …they’re for people talking to caregivers, like we talked about earlier. It is a wonderful thing.
Leeza: Amen! I love you guys. I thank you so much for everything you do. You’re such a gift …and always fun to unwrap. Thank you.
Peter: Thank you, Leeza. And if people want to get involved with Senior Helpers …where do they go?
Leeza: Go to www.seniorhelpers.com. They’ve got franchises all over the country …and they would love to help you figure out what makes sense for you and your family.
Peter: Seniorhelpers.com …and …also, I think it’s LeezaGibbons.com if you want to know more about Leeza. As if you don’t know already more about Leeza …as if you don’t already know more about Leeza! I mean, she …It’s Leeza Gibbons for Heaven’s Sake! However, if you want to see more …go out to her website …and, thank you so much for being here with us.
Hey listen, don’t go away …we’ll be right back! This is Peter Rosenberger, this is the nation’s #1 show for the family caregiver. We are glad you are here. Don’t go away. [Music]
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