Life is funny. Sometimes the most rebellious of us, the teen gone bad, the unwed mother of three, the Harley brother in leather and bandanas and lots of tattoos becomes the best caregiver, the most thoughtful son–or daughter.

Why? Sometimes those who travel counter to society have the most tender souls. Sometimes the battle with their personal demons have made them even more thoughtful, more real and more alive. They may wrap the package in a prickly covering, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a teddy bear underneath.

Our lives are like boomerangs. For some of us, we fling ourselves as long and as hard as we can from our families–and our trajectory runs its course. We go to the bitter edge, turn, and with the same intensity we find our way back home again.

That doesn’t mean that if you’re the black sheep that you have to cut your hair, cover your tats, and clean up your language in order to be a good caregiver. Be yourself! What a refreshing idea. What you have to give to your loved one–your life experience, your way of looking at the world–is unique and of value.

And if you don’t already know it, black sheep have incredible charisma. It’s your charm, your edginess, your dangerous elements that make you such a great care person.

I do think that most of us get more forgiving as we age. We get tired of being angry at everybody and everything. We get tired of our own spiel. We realize we don’t know everything and all that we’ve been hiding and running from was ironically trying to teach us a thing or two. If your family didn’t used to accept you, it doesn’t mean they still won’t. And if your mom or dad or sister or brother need you, and you need them–be willing to knock on the door.

Alzheimer’s and other diseases that ravage our bodies are great levelers. When it hits and your loved one needs help, it won’t matter if you’re wearing cowboy boots or Birkenstocks. Don’t let others keep you away. Don’t let your past keep you away. You deserve to be there. They deserve to have you there in those final years, months, and hours.

So what if you don’t look like, talk like or think like the other sons and daughters in the waiting room. Maybe that’s a good thing.  Some of the kindest, most attentive, most present caregivers I know come in the most unlikely of packages.

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Carol O'Dell

Carol D. O'Dell's gripping memoir MOTHERING MOTHER, (April 1, 2007 by Kunati Publishing) is for the "sandwich" generation and overflows with humor, grace and much needed honesty. Written with wit and sensitivity, Mothering Mother offers insight on how to not only survive but thrive the challenges of caring for others while keeping your life, heart, and dreams intact. Carol is an inspirational speaker and instructor focusing on caregiving, spirituality and adoption issues. She has been featured on numerous television, radio and magazine and podcast programs including WEDU/PBS, Artist First Radio, "Coping with Caregiving" national radio, Women's Digest and Mature Matters Publications. Her fiction and nonfiction work has appeared in numerous publications including Atlanta Magazine, Southern Revival, MARGIN, and AIM, America's Intercultural Magazine Carol appeared on the radio show "Healing the Grieving Heart" with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss "Mothering Mother: A Daughter's Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir." To hear Carol being interviewed on this show, click on the following link: www.voiceamericapd.com/health/010157/horsley031308.mp3

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