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Stroke Smart Magazine

March/April 2007
Q & A

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Life as a Caregiver

By Joel and Tamara Buchwald

Wednesday, January 17, 2007, Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist and political satirist Art Buchwald died from complications of kidney failure. He died in his son's home, where he had been living since 2000, when he suffered a stroke.

After his death, Stroke Smart had the opportunity to talk to Joel and Tamara Buchwald about their life as caregivers for Art. Here's what they had to say.

SS: What is your fondest memory of your dad after his stroke?

We have many fond memories. Mainly, our day-to-day existence of living together as a family. We got along well and had a lot of laughs. After Art moved in, Joel, Art and I became a pack. Then Joel and I had a son, Corbin, so it became the four of us and then a daughter, Tate, so our family grew to five.

SS: What was the first thing you thought about when you heard about his stroke?

He had the stroke while staying with us the Friday before Father's Day in 2000. There is an interesting story to this. Art was living alone in New York in 2000. I had called him earlier that week and asked him to join us for Father's Day in Washington, D.C. He said "No, I will come down next week." I called him again and said, “Please come. I think it is important that you spend Father's Day with your children.” (He was not close to his other two daughters.) He relented and came. Then during his visit one day, Joel went to check on him downstairs and found him on the floor.

So, to answer the question, when he had his stroke, I just kept thinking how grateful I was that he came to D.C. because otherwise he would have been alone in New York and probably would not have received such immediate attention.

SS: How soon did the two of you make the decision to become his primary caregivers?

Immediately. It was a "see how it goes" situation. Art fully recovered from his stroke, so had he wanted to move back to New York we would have supported it. Instead, he moved in with us and created his own life here. We originally gave up the master bedroom for him and eventually built him a wing where he had his bedroom, bathroom and office.

SS: Was it a hard decision?

No, not at all.

SS: Joel, you left your career to care full-time for your Dad. What impact did that have on your life?

Actually, I originally left my career to take care of my mother for a year. She had lung cancer. It had a tremendous impact on my life but I managed to continue creating my own life by getting married and having children.

SS: Tamara, you became the primary breadwinner and helped provide the financial support so that Joel could become the primary caregiver. How did this decision affect you?

It was the most logical step. I had a fantastic job at a great law firm. Joel was a producer at ABC News. His job involved a lot of international travel, which would have complicated the situation.

SS: How do you think having Art at home impacted your children?

Of everything, those are the most beautiful memories. They spent so much time with their "Ugg." The kids would be with him in his suite a lot of the day. He read to them. Every night before we went to bed we had a ritual of taking him cookies and milk to say goodnight.

He was so proud. He had the same sense of pride that Joel and I share. When we would see other children, Art would say "Those kids are not nearly as cute as our kids."

The children are three-year-old Corbin and two-year-old Tate. We have done our best to explain the situation but they still ask for him everyday. As young as they are, they miss him.

SS: What surprised you most about being a caregiver?

Art was such a huge personality. Being his caregiver required an enormous amount of commitment and time.

SS: Knowing what you know now, would you make the same choice?

Absolutely, without a doubt.

SS: Having gone through this experience, what words of wisdom would you share with other caregivers of stroke survivors?

I would recommend taking one day at a time and looking at it through a larger perspective. In retrospect, it is a gift to be able to give our parents something back. We have these great lives and our parents really have contributed to that. So I feel that the least we can do is be there for them as they were for us.


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