Some years ago, I was a front-line caregiver for one of my best friends who had developed MSA, a degenerative brain disease. In order to stop his wife, one of my former thesis advisers, from crashing and burning, I stepped in to provide full care for him anywhere from 2 to 7 days a week. In fact he later died in my care at Stonebridge Haven, where my business partner, Claire, organized PSW support for him while his wife was on a business trip in China. He had a gracious end to his life with me, surrounded by nature, peace and caring souls.

The first step in my new caregiving journey, occurred shortly after we got married. We had a bit more than a month three summers ago to bask in the glow of a great wedding and a happy life together when Jane’s parents had a health emergency which they handled badly, and we realized that they could no longer stay in their home in Kingston, that they needed to move to an independent living facility. They were already in their 88th year, and we had already been talking to them about moving in with us, but as long as they thought they could handle things, they were not interested in leaving their home in Kingston.

Now that she needed our care to recover from the skin lesions that occurred during their emergency, we brought them back to Pakenham, to Stonebridge Haven, the little retreat centre that Claire Marson and I were developing, where she was nursed back to health and we sorted out what to do next. He was in denial about the severity of what had happened, and disagreed with his son, daughter and myself that they could no longer stay in their own home. We insisted that they had to choose between an Independent Living facility in Kingston or closer to us. In the end they settled on The Waterside in Carleton Place, because she decided that living close to family was more important than living close to friends.

And so started the first phase of my caregiving, because as devoted as Jane was to her parents, she was working full-time and commuting an hour each way. My more flexible semi-retired work with Stonebridge Haven made it possible for me to be the guy who handled medical appointments and the like. At the same time, a core piece of what Claire and I were developing at Stonebridge Haven was respite care and support for caregivers, because we had both served stints as caregivers and knew about the stresses of this unacknowledged and often poorly supported essential role in families. And so I began to benefit from the wealth of experience that Claire had acquired in taking care of her Dad for the last 7 years of his life, managing the Parkinson’s he had had for almost 30 years along with kidney failure and other issues.