Appreciating Dr. Seuss’s Bedside Manner

Expert Sherri Snelling reveals that the beloved children’s book author was a caregiver too … who knew?

This week brings together a “perfect storm” of three things near and dear to my heart: reading, the Academy Awards, and caregiving. How do they they all relate? Two words: Dr. Seuss.

Who Reads? We Read!

Today, and on March 2 every year, we celebrate Read Across America Day, the initiative started by the National Education Association in commemoration of the birthday of our beloved children’s book author Dr. Seuss (whose real name was Theodor Geisel).

If Geisel were still with us today he would have been 106. But alas the “cat” tipped his “hat” for the last time in 1991, at the age of 87. However, his legacy as the author of some of the best loved and most widely published children’s books — The Cat in the Hat; Horton Hears a Who!; Green Eggs and Ham; One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; and my favorite, How the Grinch Stole Christmasendures.

Who Wins? He Won!

While Geisel was celebrated as the magical Dr. Seuss, he was also a veteran of World War II, which gave him the opportunity to create a documentary film about his war experiences for which he was honored with the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1947. He went on to win another Oscar in 1950 for Best Animated Short Film, based on an original story he conceived during his Army days.

Who Cares? He Cared (and so do we)!

What is perhaps the least known about Dr. Seuss is that he was a caregiver. For several years during perhaps his most productive writing phase, Geisel’s first wife, Helen, suffered from several chronic illnesses including battling cancer. While he poured his passion into the writings that made reading for children entertaining as well as educational, he poured his love into caring for his ill spouse. Since the couple did not have children, Geisel was primary caregiver during those years.

Men As Caregivers

According to a comprehensive study by the National Alliance for Caregiving, “Caregiving in the U.S.”, men make up about one-third of all caregivers. Most of us think that caregiving is more a “woman’s” role, but it is important to recognize the role that many men play in caring for older parents, spouses, and children and young adults with special needs.

Often, men’s caregiving duties are to handle the financial and legal paperwork, medical insurance and home safety modifications for an older parent. But, when the person in need of care is a spouse, as was the case with Dr. Seuss, the responsibilities can be all-encompassing.

And the emotional impact of caregiving hits men as much as women. A dear friend of mine, who was an only child, lost both his parents within a year of each other. Although they lived a good, long life, the last years of watching his parents’ health decline, moving them from their beloved home into a much safer assisted living facility, managing their doctor appointments, hospitalizations, medications, etc. definitely took its toll on him. He told me how he struggled with feelings of guilt, the stress of starting his own family while watching his parents decline, juggling career and caregiving – all the things we know to be part of the journey caregivers travel which leaves many caregivers feeling quite alone.

The truth is you are not alone. More than 65 million Americans are caring for a loved one – with 44 million caring for someone over age 50. And, there are numerous resources and information out there to help you.

Caregiver Reading Room

There are many books on caregiving that have been published, including Gail Sheehy’s Passages in Caregiving and Francine Russo’s They’re Your Parents Too!. However, I know how little time caregivers have, so I recommend you browse the following Web sites for information which may help you more quickly:

Eldercare Locator

National Alliance for Caregiving

National Family Caregivers Association

Family Caregiver Alliance

Family Caregiving 101

Editor’s Note: Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers, with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance “self care” while caring for a loved one. She is a consultant, media contributor, and frequent guest speaker on the nation’s baby boomers  who has been featured on CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, ABC World Evening News, MSNBC, and CNN, as well as in the New York Times, USA Today, PARADE, Prevention, and WebMD.

One comment so far.

  1. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    Theodor Geisel’s first wife was ill and did have cancer but she committed suicide after finding out her husband was having an affair. A year later he married the woman he had an affair with. He didn’t have children by either marriage. He was once quoted as saying, “You have children and I’ll entertain them.” He did exactly that with his books developing the easy reader series. I give him very high marks for helping kids learn to read with his books. He didn’t comfort his wife as a caregiver instead he sought comfort to help himself through his wife, Helen’s, many challenges. I wouldn’t call that compassionate care. The least he could have done was hide the affair to prevent the emotional suffering along with the physical pain.