Called to Be a Caregiver
Called to Be a Caregiver
The cofounder of Home Instead Senior Care tells how prayer and faith led her and her husband to start their company.
All my life I felt guided, secure in the knowledge that God had a plan for me. Then came a time in my early thirties when I wondered if I’d made a mistake, if maybe I’d completely misread what God wanted my husband, Paul, and me to do.
That day Paul came into the kitchen, his face so ghostly white I thought he was about to pass out. “Our bank account is down to almost nothing,” he said. “And there’s not much money coming in. If we don’t get more clients soon we’re going to have to close the business or move in with my mother.”
“We can’t give up. Something will come through,” I said. But I could feel a knot in my chest. Paul never questioned himself. His confidence was one of the things I’d admired most about him ever since we began dating, in college.
What if people just weren’t interested in this new venture of ours? We had started a service that provided families with trained caregivers who came to their homes.
“I’ve got to make some calls,” Paul said. He turned and left me with my worries. It wasn’t just Paul and me. At that time we had three kids to think about. Everything was riding on this.
We’d launched Home Instead Senior Care, our fledgling business, six months earlier, in June 1994. The idea was to provide elderly people with caregivers who could cook meals, do housecleaning, ensure that medications were being taken and provide transportation to doctors’ appointments. To give them the assistance they needed to continue living independently.
We hoped that one day we’d be able to sell franchises across the country—like the Merry Maids house-cleaning company, where Paul had spent 10 years.
We both knew what it took to run a business. After college I had opened my own modeling agency and built a successful sales career with Mary Kay cosmetics, but I’d closed the business and left Mary Kay so we could launch Home Instead.
I have always believed I could achieve whatever I put my mind to. One of my favorite Bible verses is Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
I could see that in my own life, how one success led to another. I had worked hard and dealt with setbacks. But not like this. I’d never faced such an unrelenting struggle. We had printed brochures. Gone out to almost every civic club in Omaha. Church groups. Discharge departments at area hospitals. Nothing. Not even a nibble.
“Why would I hire someone to take my mom to the doctor?” people would say. “That’s what I do.” Or they’d ask, “Is this something you have a lot of experience in?”
The answer to that was no. But I actually did know something about what it took to be a caregiver. Growing up, I’d watched my mother care for my brother Jay. He was a year younger than me and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He had severe cognitive difficulties and when frustrated could be aggressive.
My father worked nights as an editor with the Omaha World-Herald, so my mother was the one who had to make sure Jay took his medication, persuade him to shower, get him to bed. I could see the toll it took on her, the occasional bruises on her arms, the worry in her eyes.
But there was no thought of Jay living anywhere else but at home with us. “God chose Jay to be in our family,” she’d say. “We all help each other. That’s what families do.”
Sometimes when I was young and Mom was busy making dinner, she would ask me to watch Jay. We’d play school and I’d “teach” him simple math problems or read stories to him. Or we would play tennis or shoot baskets in the driveway. I cherished every moment we spent together.
But as Jay grew older, bigger and stronger, the challenges of caring for him got to be too much for us to handle. Because of more frequent bouts of aggressive behavior, my parents had to place him in an institution. We knew it was the right decision, but I’ll never forget the look of defeat and sorrow on my mother’s face the day he left home.
I felt guilty that I couldn’t be more of a help to her. Fortunately, it wasn’t too long before Jay was able to move to a group home, where he lived more independently, and even got a job. We all shared in the pride he felt.
Still, I never thought of myself as a caregiver. I went to college, at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, to study psychology. In addition to the goal of earning my degree, I had another, more personal goal: to win the Miss Nebraska USA title.
I was shy and insecure. Nothing like the women I saw on TV in pageants. They were beautiful and poised and radiated confidence. I wanted to be just like them. I enrolled in a modeling school and learned about posture and public speaking, fashion, makeup and hair care.
Most of all I learned that I had to trust in my Godgiven abilities. After that everything seemed to fall into place.
My sophomore year I was crowned Miss Nebraska USA! At the Miss USA pageant, a few months later, I dressed as a meadowlark, the Nebraska state bird, for the opening Parade of States number. It wasn’t the most flattering costume, which may have had something to do with my not placing among the top 12. Still, what an amazing experience!
T wo years later I met Paul, on a blind date. He was incredibly handsome, but it was his ambition, the goals he’d set for himself, that really drew me in. He dreamed of running his own business someday—with all the risks and rewards that came with it.