As recently as ten years ago, when I was still working as a geriatric social worker, I never imagined myself as a full time caregiver. My mother, a Holocaust survivor and a widow since 1970, was fiercely independent as far back as I can remember, and she vowed repeatedly to never live with her children in her old age. A triple heart bypass, increasing fragility and the previously unknown fear of being alone marked the end of that era… and a shift from granite rock to porcelain bone china. Honoring my remaining parent took on a completely different perspective when our house became her sanctuary and home too.

She vowed repeatedly to never live with her childrenLet me say to all of you out there who are caregivers – whether your parent is living with you, in his/her own home, or residing in a care facility – you are doing a great mitzvah (deed) by assisting them in any way. Whatever you are capable of providing for your parent(s) is honorable, for it is the intent, and not material provisions per se, which is the key. For those of you who have welcomed your parent(s) into your homes, I am one of you now and understand the requirements, sacrifice and discipline which one must reach despite an age which does not always lend itself to the intricate complexities of caregiving 24/7. My husband and children also reach inside themselves in light of this new change in our home.

Now at this different stage of my life, I feel blessed by G‑d that I have been given this most precious role, the privilege of greeting each new day once again with this incredible woman who gave me life.

We all have visions, plans for our lives for any given decade. How many of us have thought about life in our fifties, and then on to retirement, and then the "Golden Years"? What so many people do not realize is that G‑d has a plan for us which may be completely different from what we had originally thought, and we have all been prepared in some way to be ready for the tasks at hand. This insight has only come upon me recently as I reflect on my foundation, years of providing group-work, individual counseling and assistance to hundreds of elderly clients and their families. I use this training much as an athlete must rely on his/her physical and mental preparation for an upcoming event. I reach into my toolbox of knowledge, patience and compassion on an everyday basis in order to honor the principle which, significantly, is a portion of the first of two tablets in the Ten Commandments.

Melding years of groundwork with the realities of living with one's parent after leaving the nest several decades prior, brings to mind my gifted and dear friend Leslie whose creative quilting makes use of each precious piece of fabric in order to complete the artistic vision of her masterpieces. No old scrap of material is wasted, no stitch unnecessary. The patchwork of life often necessitates thoughtful planning in order to surround us with harmony and beauty.

I reach into my toolbox of knowledge, patience and compassion on an everyday basisThere are moments, even days, when I need my space in a more intimate manner - a period of separation, time with friends or even some moments of seclusion or study which act much like a time-release medication capsule, consistently providing me with its benefits so I can recharge, and commit my best qualities to my beloved mother. Being the wonderful, smart mom that she is, she understands this. But not all care receivers do, making it that much more challenging for the caregiver. And that, my friends, among other things, is what these years of helping others in this position has taught me. All caregivers who are reading this, whether you are assisting a parent or other loved one - look after yourselves. It is not a selfish act, but rather a loving and respectful one.

I have witnessed too many people become ill and even die before their care receivers. Many of them ignored the signs of fatigue, depression and loneliness which can obscure one's perception and create a toxic blur of symptoms which are not always well noticed or understood by caregivers or even health professionals.

When I have a difficult day, I try to focus on the incredible strength my mother has shown throughout her life. Her courage and determination to survive serve as a reminder to me that each one of us possesses inner strength beyond the realm of our understanding.

It has become my mission to provide not only shelter for my mother but a sense of peace, comfort and the security that I will do my best to protect her from further hardship in her life. With that promise comes the responsibility to seek assistance if I need it. I hope that I can face each new challenge that comes my way with at least a fraction of the dignity and resolve that she has exemplified.

I always thought that I should be able to handle everything on my own, because, after all, I have been trained for so many years as a helping professional and should know what to do. But I realize that this is a myth; all of us must be humble enough to admit when to seek support. We owe it to ourselves and to our loved ones.

Each day with our loved ones in a precious giftA few days ago, one of my son's friends lost his grandmother. As I sat with the mourners at the shiva, I listened as the memories poured out of broken souls. I was handed an album which seemed to come alive with the radiant beauty of a family surrounded by each other. G‑d was reminding me that each day with our loved ones is a precious gift which we must never take for granted.

My mother has had a hard life; but as she sits on my porch listening to the birds chirping and watches the autumn leaves dancing in the wind, she says for the first time in many, many years, "Life is beautiful,isn't it?" Indeed it is.