How I Did It: Denise M. Brown, Founder, Caregiving.com
In 1984, I sat in my Creative Writing class at the University of Illinois with neither a creative idea nor a story to write. I loved writing and wanted to write. But I wrote the same story--a story about lost love--over and over.
The recycling of stories wasn't lost on my classmates, especially one who told me, "I feel I've read this story before, Denise." Of course he had. My writing was a wish in my heart. I simply didn't know how to turn that wish into words on a page.
Six years later, I sat on the bedroom floor in my apartment, scouring the newspaper's want ads. I had just quit my job writing for a trade magazine. I had a job writing, but no one read what I wrote. That drove me nuts. I wanted to write what people wanted to read. And, I wanted to write what would make a difference to the reader.
I sat, turning the newspaper pages, on a bright sunny summer day. Yet it seemed a flashlight turned on above an ad for a manager of a congregate meal site which served a lunchtime meal for seniors and delivered Meals on Wheels to homebound seniors. I had never worked with seniors. I also had never considered working with seniors.
And, yet, the ad illuminated.
I'll sleep on this, I told myself. If I'm still thinking about the ad when I wake up tomorrow, I'll call. The ad was top of mind the next morning. I called, interviewed and was hired.
I loved that job, which led to another job I loved: Managing a respite care program for persons caring for a family member with a chronic illness.
I loved these jobs because I loved the stories, particularly those told by family caregivers I heard while on the job. Caregiving, it occurred to me, was an overlooked life milestone. The experience created such soul-searching, such self-doubt, such heartbreak, and yet ultimately could produce such peace, purpose and pride.
Caregiving contains all the elements that a good story requires.
A few years later, the writing began in earnest. In 1995, I began publishing a monthly newsletter called Caregiving!. Colleagues would ask, "Aren't you afraid you won't have enough to write about every month?" Oh, my, I would think: of all that I fear, I never fear I will not have enough to write. When I write for and about family caregivers, the words and stories flow.
In the fall of 1996, I launched Caregiving.com, a place for insights, information and inspirations for family caregivers. To me, the Internet seemed like heaven on earth for a writer, offering a universe of potential readers.
By 2006, I only created content for the website, taking advantage of cost savings by discontinuing the monthly print newsletter. In 2008, I added more writers to the site, welcoming family caregivers who create their own blogs. Writing about their struggles and then receiving support from comments posted on their blogs both strengthens and heals these family caregivers.
In writing about others, I also realized I could write for myself. Specifically, I could write my own rules for living a good life. The rules include:
1. Follow the flashlight. I'm so glad I responded to the part-time ad for a position which ultimately led to my life's purpose. It seemed like such an odd job to take and yet it was the perfect job to bless me. When your flashlight shines, follow.
2. Pain can be our best inspiration. We all experience the struggles of life, whether in trying to keep a business afloat or in keeping from drowning because of caregiving. I feel better during a bad day if I write about it. Writing about my bad days ultimately became two books I penned to help family caregivers: Take Comfort and Take Comfort, Too. After reading Take Comfort, a spouse caring for her husband found the courage to move her husband into a nursing home, a move they both needed. These books have come to mean so much to a reader caring for her mother and her three children that she's donated a book to one library in every state so other family caregiver can gain the comfort she did.
3. One can be a powerful number. We often stop before we start because we think we're just one person. What impact can one make? I operate Caregiving.com with the help of volunteers. I am the only full-time employee. After visiting Caregiving.com, family caregivers feel understood, appreciated and valued during a time in their life that can feel hopeless, unfair and demoralizing. An army of one can become a fierce force.
4. Get out of your way by being curious. When I'm feeling like my life lacks, I'll listen to what I'm telling myself. Thoughts like, "I have to settle for this...I have no other options," produce just that--no other options. I'm better off asking, "What could be a better way for me to do this?" Or, "How can I find a better solution?" These questions lead to answers, such as the website software I use now (which I love) or the website I use to self-publish my books (which means my books now sit on bookshelves). Curiosity can remove the obstacles which could contain us.
Through my work with family caregivers, I've learned we all want to make a difference. We can make a difference when we listen to what we want for ourselves. I wanted to write what others wanted to read. A simple wish which now meets a powerful need.
What do you want? Listen to your heart and then follow your light. You'll be amazed at your difference.
Photo Caption: Caregiving.com helps individuals like G-J Heins, pictured here with her husband, Steve, and son, Robert. G-J blogs on Caregiving.com about caring for Steve, diagnosed in 2009 with a dementia-related illness.
Denise M. Brown debuted Caregiving.com in 1996 and has authored five book to help family caregivers: The Caregiving Years, Six Stages to a Meaningful Journey; Take Comfort, Reflections of Hope for Caregivers; Take Comfort, Too, More Reflections of Hope; Good Morning! Sunny Reflections to Start Your Day; and Take Time, A Journal and Journey Toward Greater Happiness During an Unhappy Time (Caregiving). Denise's insights about the caregiving experience have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Time magazine and Chicago Tribune and on SmartMoney.com. Denise is also a professional caregiving coach, working with family caregivers and professionals to find the meaning in their journeys.