Guest Author: Iris Waichler

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Role Reversal: How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents

By Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW

Why I felt the Need to Write About My Experiences as a Caregiver

My chosen career was medical social work/patient advocacy. I have done both for
40 years. My experience was primarily in hospitals, working with people who had catastrophic medical problems like strokes, amputations, cancer, and head injuries.

I loved working with these patients and counseling their families. They wanted my help to understand how to cope with the enormous changes these medical catastrophes had done to their lives. I helped them to plan for care they would need post-hospitalization.

My Moment

One day I found the wife of a patient crying. He was getting a routine test. When I asked why she cried she said “because he is dying.” She assumed the worst. That was my moment of realization.

People in crisis facing medical problems don’t always know what to ask or what to do to help their loved ones. I knew if someone gave them information about what questions to ask, their anxiety would go down. They would feel less alone and more prepared.

My personal and professional life came together in June 2014. While on a trip to Greece, my sister and I got a phone call that our 96 year old father was hospitalized with pneumonia. Prior to that, he had been in good health. He had fully recovered from a brain hemorrhage and subsequent surgery at age 90. My dad had proudly been leading an independent life at an assisted center.

My father was a remarkable man. By society standards he was ordinary. He was a blue collar worker who called himself a junk man. He had a high school education. Dad had served in World War II for four years. He put his four kids through college. He adopted two of my siblings. There was seldom a time where there wasn’t some relative living in our home. Dad offered his kidney to a sick friend.

My father was a caregiving example all his life. I had decided to write about him and his life story. I told him about it and he was pleased. He showed me a short autobiography he had written about himself. I was trying to figure out how to incorporate his writing into my book.

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Available on Amazon

It All Changed – And Quickly

Suddenly our world shifted. Like other elderly people, my father’s pneumonia set off an unexpected series of medical problems. We were suddenly facing multiple hospitalizations and an inevitable decline in his memory, mind, and body. Our focus became helping him get the best care he could to help him die with dignity.

It doesn’t matter how old you are when you face losing a parent. It is hard and emotionally wrenching. Even with my professional expertise, the pain was raw and unending. He had made me his executor and given me power over his medical care. These were great gifts that gave me the tools I needed to be his caregiver.

As I continued in my sleepless state and as I spoke with friends and other people, I realized there were many others who found themselves in this ultimate role reversal. Nobody knew what to do. Universal themes of helplessness, grief, and confusion arose in all these conversations.

I knew my only option was to move the focus of my book. I needed to offer comprehensive guidelines and as much resource information as I could to people assuming this overwhelming challenge.

Only Three Months

My father died three months after that call to Greece. We had gotten him the care he needed and my siblings and I shared our caregiving roles. He died knowing he was loved. I was in the midst of writing my book, but it was too painful to continue. My grief at losing him immobilized me as a writer. Three more months passed before I could sit down and was able to write.

It took me awhile to figure out as a writer how to mesh these two themes: my father’s life story and the caregiver components. It needed to be readable and informative. I decided to use my father’s own words from his autobiography.

Using his own words helped me feel like we were writing the book together. I blended my experience with him as his caregiver, with universal caregiver challenges like coping with memory loss, finding the right level of care, dealing with grief, and building a support network, and coping with caregiver burnout.

My Hopes and Goals

I hope through sharing my professional knowledge and personal experience helping my father, other caregivers will feel less alone. My goal is for them to have a better understanding of what they need to do to get through a time that offers ongoing relentless obstacles for all concerned.

It is scary to share our personal family experiences with others. But I feel a book that can help others is the best tribute I can offer in my father’s memory.

I am hoping he would be proud.


Watch “Live From The Heartland” Interview

Iris Waichler appears on Heartland Media of Chicago’s “Live from the Heartland Radio Show” with Katy Hogan and Thom Clark.



Role Reversal by Iris Waichler

Iris Waichler

Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW

Iris has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 40 years.

Her book,“Role Reversal: How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents“ is available on Amazon or can be ordered from your local bookstore.

Connect with Iris


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