Sherri Snelling is the owner of Caregiving Club, a website dedicated to supporting caregivers.
Sometimes life doesn’t just offer lemons, it offers lemonade. Little did I know that caregiving for my father would also help me fulfill my lifelong dream.
For more than a decade I had been involved in advocating for and educating family caregivers in my role as Chairman of the National Alliance for Caregiving and working for one of the world’s largest health and wellness companies on caregiving initiatives. However important these roles were, I longed to pursue my passion to become a writer and to lend my pen to raising awareness for the nation’s 65 million family caregivers. In 2011, I took a deep breath and left my six-figure corporate job to start my own business, Caregiving Club. I decided Caregiving Club would be dedicated to creating educational content through written articles and online videos, consulting for companies committed to supporting its caregiving workforce, and collaborating with other like-minded companies who support our nation’s largest volunteer health care workforce – the 65 million family caregivers.
Brave New World
Most of my family and friends were skeptical and scared for me. Could I make any money doing this? Would I have to sell my house? I had always been told I was fearless but I worried was I being foolish? While all around me were people pleading with me to play it safe, one cheerleader emerged: my father. My dad and I had not been close as I was growing up. He was a Formula One race car driver and his passion took him all over the world with little time to focus on raising a family. That job fell to my mother and my wonderful stepfather. But taking risks was something my dad knew well – after all, to get into a tiny car that goes over 200 miles an hour is the ultimate risk.
Over the years, I had been a back-up caregiver to my mother for my maternal grandparents and I had helped care for my paternal grandmother. But I never played a primary caregiver role until I realized my dad’s health was failing. He was a lifelong smoker, he was a partial amputee from a staph infection stemming from a horrific racing accident, he had diabetes, high blood pressure, he was overweight and overall not the picture of health. Without saying it, we both knew there was not much time left and this may be our last chance to have the father-daughter relationship we never had.
I’ll never forget his words to me when I told him what I wanted to do which included writing a book on caregiving and developing a caregiving reality pilot TV show. With his charismatic and winning smile he said, “Go for it. You’ll never regret pursuing your dreams but you may regret playing it safe and always wondering, ‘what if.’ There may be sacrifices but your personal victory will be sweet in the end.” Then he grinned and added, “You really are my daughter.”
Supporting Each Other
How right he was. I knew I had to make some tough decisions but all of a sudden everything was coming together to make this leap easier. I had to lease my home to free up cash to start my business. My home was my symbol of all I had accomplished over the years. But, with my dad ill and his offer to come live with him, the decision was almost easy. I knew I would have to spend a lot of time focused on writing my book, producing the TV show and everything else to get my business started but I could do it all from my dad’s home. I could be there if he needed help in the bathroom, remind him to take his medications, make his meals, help transfer him from bed to wheelchair – all the things I had witnessed and written about that caregivers do. But at the same time, we had wonderful conversations when I needed a writing break and he gave me excellent advice about navigating “tricky curves” in my business dealings. He became the co-pilot to my life’s passion and I think it gave him a boost as he ended the homestretch of his life.
After two years of caregiving, I lost my dad to prostate cancer (the one ailment we did not know he had until the end). But, before he left, he saw my pilot TV program debut on RLTV, he applauded when my book was published, A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care and delighted in my tales from the road as I traveled on my book tour. Most importantly, we had the relationship I always wished we had. In the end, caregiving helped make all my dreams come true.
About Sherri Snelling
Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance “self-care” while caring for a loved one. Her book, A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care chronicles celebrity caregiver stories and provides a what to expect when caregiving guide. She writes about caregiving for the PBS NextAvenue.org, Forbes.com, Huffington Post and was named #4 on the Top 10 Alzheimer’s Influencers list by Sharecare, the health and wellness web site founded by Dr. Oz. You can find more information at Caregiving Club.