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MAGAZINE / March - April 2007 / The Leeza Gibbons Interview

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The Leeza Gibbons Interview

Shall We Dance?

Today's Caregiver magazine - Leeza Gibbons Interview

2007 is a banner year for cover interview Leeza Gibbons, as The Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation celebrates its fifth anniversary and Leeza  celebrates her fiftieth birthday. And although anniversaries and birthdays are traditionally times to dance and celebrate, Leeza has taken these
celebrations to a whole new level by dancing for the entire world as a participant on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars television program.

Leeza is also using her appearance on the program as yet another opportunity for her to shine a spotlight on the work that family caregivers do on a daily basis for their loved ones. Editor–in–Chief Gary Barg was able to get Leeza off her feet for a few minutes to talk about a wide range of topics before she had to return to once again trip the light fantastic.

Gary Barg: I’ve got to tell you, it is amazing how much you have accomplished with the Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation in a few short years. Can you talk about what is new with the foundation?

Leeza Gibbons: Our work has grown dramatically as our commitment to our mission to serve caregivers has guided us into new areas. Personally, it was very rewarding to see TWO Leeza’s Place locations in my own backyard: the Circle of Care Leeza’s Place in Sherman Oaks and Assistance League Leeza’s Place in Hollywood. Since the LA area is so diverse, it has been wonderful to open our doors and offer our free services to the multilingual, multiethnic population here and learn ways to adjust our programs for the maximum benefit. We have also found our “care coaches” concept is really taking off. As you know better than most, Gary, caregivers often find themselves becoming depleted and frustrated; especially immediately after a loved one has been diagnosed with a disease or disorder. The coaching concept gives caregivers great comfort in the knowledge that they are not alone. We help devise a team and a plan to guide and support. You can find out more at SheerInspirationCoaching.com.

GB: How has your caregiving experience with your mother changed as her Alzheimer’s disease has progressed?

LG: While in many ways I am more accepting of Mom’s decline, I also find myself crying more at the sense of loss which has become more extreme as I feel Mom become more distant and harder to reach. I have been making her music CDs for each time of the day: energetic sounds for wake up and relaxation mixes for her afternoons and evenings. Music still seems to be one of the best ways to cut through the fog and make a connection. I find that my desire to use my mother’s spirit and energy to help others has grown stronger as she slips further away.

GB: Do you have any specific insight or suggestions for other caregivers who are also dealing with loved ones living with later stage Alzheimer’s disease?

LG: Especially at this time in the disease process, it is vitally important to “take your oxygen first.” We must value our own health; spiritually, physically and emotionally as we find it harder to make a connection and have a real “relationship” with our loved ones. I have seen at Leeza’s Place how our exercise programs have provided much needed mental relief for many who come to the end of the tunnel and don’t know what to expect next. The better prepared we are for the unknown, the better we will handle the inevitable. This time is a wonderful opportunity to honor and reflect on the loved one’s gifts and lessons which transcend space and time.  If you haven’t already begun a scrapbook or memory box, you might find it comforting now. I found writing letters and putting them in a box to my mother was really meaningful.

GB: I know that you have been a scrapbooker for years and have written an important book on the subject. Over the past few years, I have spoken with more and more caregivers who are enthused with scrapbooking. Why do you think it is so important to caregivers?

LG:  We are our collection of memories and experiences.  The way we spend our time and the people we share a life with create our experience on earth. When a person changes because of a mental or physical condition, it becomes very disorienting. Scrapbooking gives the comfort of seeing where our lives have been and it elevates those moments, big and small, that make us who we are. 

GB: I’m really excited to see you on Dancing with the Stars starting this month, and really impressed by your comments that the stars you are dancing for are the family caregivers. Has dance always been important to you and your family?

LG: It’s funny because I’m not a dancer, but my teenage daughter is quite a serious dancer and my fondest memories of my mother are of her dancing. She was not trained, but she loved to express her emotions through movement. We  used to call her “Jean the Dancing Machine.” I remember when I was in high school, Mom used to take belly dancing. Now, she was a small town homemaker and this was not your typical hobby for a woman of her generation. I loved that spontaneity about her. On the second week of Dancing with the Stars, it is my 50th birthday. It is also my mother’s birthday. (I love that we share the same day.)  So, on March 26, I will take to the stage in front of 30 million viewers and dance my mambo for my Mom as we both celebrate another year. I know she will not be able to express any awareness of my presence on TV, but I hope somewhere in her heart she will know that I am joyously exhibiting the fearlessness she hoped I would develop.  I will be wearing an emerald ring which I gave to her and which my sister sent back to me after Mom got sick. It’s going to be a very emotional moment for me. I will be there dancing for the stars who are caregivers all over the country. I will dance for my dad and all the other dedicated souls who never seem to find the time to “take their oxygen.” I want to represent their strength, their commitment and their beautiful spirit of love.

GB: What can we all do to support you as you keep the light shining on family caregivers through Dancing with the Stars?

Today's Caregiver magazine - Leeza Gibbons InterviewLG: I guess I should ask for your prayers that I make it through in one piece! I am the oldest woman on the show so far!! Seriously, I took on this adventure  to tell the story of caregivers and to let the world know that there is a  group of us out there who need to remember that it’s OK to break out of the caregiver role for two minutes every now and then to empower ourselves and get nourished...whatever form that takes.

I would encourage your readers to go to the website or call the numbers on the show and vote for me!  I feel like a political candidate. When Tony Dovolani, my dance partner, and I were flying this week, we were both working the flight attendants and passengers to watch the show on Monday nights and vote!

GB: What advice do you have for family caregivers?

LG: In many ways, my participation on this TV show, Dancing with the Stars, is my attempt to take my own advice. It is important that life not be lived on the sidelines. We have to jump in and give up the illusion of control. For me, it’s this experience on live TV, but for many others it could be finally asking for a raise; it could be leaving a toxic relationship or having a baby. Don’t sit it out....jump in and dance! Your heart can
get heavy and your brain can get burdened...that’s the time to just put your body in gear and let it begin to soothe your soul.

 


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