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Maria Shriver’s Inspiration

Shriver-What's Happenning to Grandpa

I first met Maria Shriver when she was the First Lady of California. It was at the Governor’s Conference on Women – an event Shriver revolutionized through her focus on “Agents of Change.”

That campaign set in motion her “Architects of Change” focus on her new website. At the women’s conference, I bought her book for children called What’s Happening to Grandpa?

It was the first time I saw Shriver as the courageous family caregiver and realized her yearning to give back. I still have the book, which I’ve read twice.

It reveals the struggles of Kate, a young girl who adored her Grandpa’s storytelling only to realize that he had been repeating the same stories again and again. When he forgets Kate’s name, she realizes his struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease, and the impact it will have on her life forever.

My fascination with Shriver is probably not dissimilar to anyone who grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s. We all knew the Kennedy family – their trials and tragedies are part of the American fabric today. That’s why when she used her celebrity to take on Alzheimer’s and the challenges of caregiving for both her Mother, Eunice Shriver, and her father, Sargent Shriver, we paid attention. Recently, Shriver was AARP Cover - Maria-Shriver-300interviewed for the AARP Magazine.

She talked about the challenges she faced – feeling sandwiched caring for both kids and parents – and what the experience was like:

It’s emotionally challenging trying to raise your kids — and your parents at the same time. That’s challenging no matter what economic group you’re in. There’s a gaping hole in my day that was taken up talking to my my brothers about my parents, talking to doctors about them, going cross-country, managing stuff. But not a day goes by that I don’t miss my parents. If I had a choice to have them here, I’d do that all again.”

The story is not dissimilar to any I’ve heard from family caregivers – especially when you’re far away — living your own career and family life. Shriver hosted a series on Alzheimer’s, calling it a “boomer’s disease”. She focused on what’s in front of young people who will end up caring for their parents – financially, emotionally, and physically – and how it changes the family dynamic.

According to Shriver, every 68 seconds, someone in America develops Alzheimer’s. Also in the AARP piece, Shriver talks about “the power of pause” — the importance of stopping and evaluating where you are in life. She says she had to work hard at taking the time to figure things out – certainly that had to be true as California’s First Lady, as a media personality, as a Kennedy, and as a Mom.

Maria Shriver probably could have enjoyed a great career in media as a news anchor, producer, or reporter or just hung out at the family compound on Hyannis Port. But she chose to expose people to the personal struggles she had as family caregiver, first for Dad with Alzheimer’s and then for Mom, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who stood as a trailblazer for American women today.

Those who knew her mother knew that Eunice Kennedy Shriver didn’t buy into women being soft and submissive. Instead she took courageous stands in a family with high expectations. She understood the value and character of women and what they could bring to society. She started the Special Olympics and gave people with intellectual disabilities the right to play on any playing field. Learn more here about her legacy.

It’s no wonder that Maria Shriver isn’t afraid to share her life and her experiences as a family caregiver. Photos of AARP cover and Maria’s book may be found at www.MariaShriver.com.