As you’ve no doubt discovered already, becoming a caregiver gives new meaning to the words “be prepared.” Why this isn’t the Girl Scout motto instead of the Boy Scout’s is beyond me. After all, the female of our species is expected to anticipate every situation. Look at our handbags. On an ordinary day, they not only contain keys, a wallet, and a makeup pouch, but also protein bars, bottled water, a cell phone, a damp washcloth in a plastic bag (no wait, that was my mother), and a mini pharmacy.

Judith at four in her caregiver-in-training days.

And when life changes dramatically, the contents of our purses tell that story. So it was for me when, in 2007, my elderly father slipped and hurt his back and my mother, at 85, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

At any given time, I carried:

  1. Hastily jotted sticky notes, which sometimes tagged along on the back of my pants as I ran errands. What amazed me was that no one ever bothered to say anything.
  2. A tube of Burt’s Bees colored lip-gloss. It gave my tired face a bit of garish color when I needed it.
  3. Twenty to-do lists. Some were written in my father’s methodical script, but most contained my own illegible scrawl.
  4. A pound of change for the parking meter at my mother’s rehab center. Twenty minutes for a quarter. About what my time was worth.
  5. A key ring to make a janitor swoon. It held twelve keys, including those to my office, house, and car; my parents houses and their safe deposit box, along with an assortment of scan thingies from Stein Mart and TJ Maxx for retail therapy.
  6. My cell phone. Instead of salivating like Pavlov’s dogs every time it rang, my body’s response was a spray of adrenaline up my spine that began to wear me out. To keep my sanity, I finally bought a different phone with a whole new selection of ring tones.
  7. Tweezers, for pulling stray chin hairs that literally appeared out of nowhere. They always caught the light as I glanced into my visor mirror while sitting in traffic. Who can pluck when everyone’s watching?
  8. A pocket calendar with laughably small squares. Imagine real life fitting into a one-inch box.
  9. A brochure for an assisted living facility my mother couldn’t bear to think she might actually need. I was beginning to wonder if I should apply.
  10. A relaxation CD my dear friend Anne sent me. Great stuff, if I only had time to listen. 

And, as if that wasn’t enough, I added:

  1. A variety of notepads and pens that I tended to leave behind like a trail of breadcrumbs.
  2. Copies of my parents’ HIPPA forms; durable powers of attorney; healthcare surrogate documents; and living wills. I never considered it ghoulish to carry their DNR’s (Do Not Resuscitate), as well. It is always about being prepared.
  3. A list of important family and medical contacts.
  4. A pair of foldable flat shoes. This may seem like an odd one, but when you have a parent in the hospital, the distance to the parking garage from their room will always be farther than you can walk in heels.
  5. Something to nosh on while sitting at the hospital, usually a plastic bag of homemade granola. Plain or on top of yogurt, it was often a healthier alternative to the hospital cafeteria offerings.

Last, but not least, I rarely went anywhere without my sense of humor. Because, at times, it would save me when nothing else could.

So tell me – what are some of the things you carry in your own caregiver’s toolbox?

Want to learn more about Judith? Check out her caregiver profile, connect with her on the forums, and look out for her upcoming book, The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving.

About Judith Henry

When Judith’s parents became ill in 2007, even her reputation as a pragmatist, planner, and dutiful daughter (her father’s term) couldn’t prepare her for what lay ahead – a long list of concerns that included navigating an unfamiliar healthcare system, addressing financial and legal issues, dealing with stress, unexpected family dynamics, and ultimately making hospice arrangements.

That experience led her to write, The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving, part intimate recollection and part down-to-earth advice. Loaded with humor and not a few tears, it's geared towards adult children who find themselves taking on more responsibility for an aging parent’s well-being.

Judith also speaks on a variety of topics, including caring for older adults; dealing with grief and loss; the benefits of expressive writing for caregivers. Her presentations and workshops are appropriate for a wide range of businesses and organizations including civic associations, writer’s groups, women’s centers, health maintenance and healthcare facilities.

Described as a warm and engaging speaker, Judith excels at connecting with an audience through humor, personal knowledge and experience.

She can be reached through