My name is Meredith Gould, and I recently celebrated my 60th birthday, something I never thought would happen. Sixty seemed just so old when I was in my 30s and 40s. But here I am, gratefully alive and managing the daily aggravation of fibromyalgia from my new home in Baltimore, Maryland. It’s my new home because at the unimaginable age of 58, I decided I’d had enough of suburbia. And, as grace would have it, the man who would become my husband lives there.
I’m a writer who started out as an artist, something I now dabble in when needing a break from writing. For love, I’ve published seven books, mostly about the spirituality of everyday life. I have a special fondness for Deliberate Acts of Kindness: Service as a Spiritual Practice, a book that includes lots of personal anecdotes about serving in various ways over the years.
For love and money, I write for the health care industry. I’m always proud to say I was writing about health and wellness during the late 1980s when things like therapeutic massage, acupuncture, and yoga were considered flat-out weird. Having a doctorate in sociology helped. My social science training has always made it easier for me to see and, in turn, help others understand the larger framework of daily life. Now add to that my faith.
During my 40s, a combination of challenges, disappointments, and frustrations triggered a spiritual crisis, which prompted a spiritual journey. By my 50s, I’d become a woman of deep faith in a higher power I choose to call God, active in church, and basically evaluating everything by asking, “Will this enhance my relationship with God or will this distract me from my relationship with God?” I’d discover how being a caregiver definitely enhanced my relationship with God; so does being a cat mommy.
I’m sharing my caregiving story with Better Medicine because ever-increasing numbers of people will need to procure personal care for someone who needs it, or will need to serve as a caregiver at some point. Since caregiving is about being in a relationship, I want to share what I’ve learned and how it helps to have faith as well as spiritual practices in place. Above all, I’m sharing my story because I’ve loved being a personal aide—even when I didn’t.
About My Work
Becoming a personal aide was not on my list of jobs to land or identities to manage during this lifetime. But after a divorce, I faced significant changes in my financial status, so I applied for supplemental work as a caregiver through a state-funded program paying only $6.25 per hour. In this position, I provided near-daily care for a woman named Ruth, whom I’d met through mutual acquaintances. Before that, I’d been providing hospice support on a volunteer basis. What started out as a temporary gig lasted nearly seven years and changed my life forever.
Ruth needed a personal aide after her health was destroyed by an uninsured drunk driver. When I met her, she had already endured several not-so-successful surgeries along the way to her eventual diagnosis: incomplete C2-3 spinal cord injury. This type of spinal cord injury is, actually, a form of quadriplegia that makes some activities of daily living (“ADLs,” we call them) difficult; others are utterly impossible.
I quickly realized that I would have a lot to learn in this new job.
Making a Difference in the Life of One Person
Ruth and I actually had much in common. We were both single and basically the same age, although I’m slightly older. We had both earned what are charmingly known as “terminal” degrees, a PhD for me and a JD for her, something that made us overeducated for just about everything. We’re both veterans of psychotherapy as well as other forms of inner spelunking. Ruth had once been an aide to someone with a disability. I had hospice experience. We both believe God is loving, merciful, and ever-present. We’re people who believe that prayer is always a first, rather than a last, resort.