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Apr. 2, 2019

By Carol Zernial, WellMed Charitable Foundation Executive Director

She was his high school sweetheart, so when he got cancer after 47 years of marriage, she knew that she would take care of him no matter what. They would get the best doctors and fight it together. She had the best of intentions.

He was the third generation in a row to get cancer. It ran in his family. He had seen what cancer does and he wasn’t sure that he could bear the pain or put his family through this – again. He began quietly putting his affairs in order, going through the insurance benefits, and giving away some old family mementos to his grandchildren. He wasn’t going to wait for the cancer to take him. He had the best of intentions.

She was the oldest daughter, and everyone looked up to her when her father got ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. She started filling her bookcase with books on caregiving, on ALS and spiritual guidance. She knew where this road led and it was going to be tough. But she was ready. She had the best of intentions.

He was 74 years old with a good family, and had lived a blessed life. The thought of ending up trapped in a body that would no longer respond while others attended to his every need filled him with dread. Once you sit down in the wheelchair, you never get back up. He knew he was running out of time and needed to make plans. He wasn’t going to be a helpless burden on his family. He had the best of intentions.

She thought she would be the one who got Alzheimer’s disease. Her mother and mother-in-law had both died from the disease. It was a shock that her husband came down with Alzheimer’s first, but that didn’t matter. She and her husband had always enjoyed living out in the country together, and their children would help her out. She had the best of intentions.

He had paid for four years for his mother to live in memory care in the nearest town. It was more than $5,000 a month. He was afraid they would lose their farm if he had to go into memory care, too. He knew they would never have enough money for his wife to live into old age if they had to spend their savings on him. He was going to make sure his wife had what she needed after she had given him so much. He had the best of intentions.

How do we feel about being a caregiver? Have we asked how our loved one feels about being cared for? Have we thought about the price of pain, or about the cost of losing our independence? Have we worked out our plans together to get through this or to the end of this? And have we watched for warning signs that either of us is giving up – despite the best of intentions?

WellMed Charitable Foundation Executive Director Carol Zernial is a noted gerontologist, radio show host, and emeritus Chair of the National Council on Aging. The non-profit WellMed Charitable Foundation focuses on complimentary programs impacting seniors and family caregivers, including weekly telephone learning sessions, evidence-based classes on stress reduction and more. Find out more at or toll-free at 1-866-390-6491.

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