My mother recently passed away. This is the common ending of so many caregiving journeys. For us, it was six years after the official Alzheimer’s diagnosis. But it could have been cancer, end-stage renal disease, heart failure, pneumonia, or a number of other conditions that prompt people to pick up the mantle of caregiving.

I was standing in line at the busy Starbucks at the airport to go home. I felt on edge with the pushing of caffeine-craving people with their luggage, the overly loud voice of the woman on her cell phone behind me strategizing about the latest office brouhaha, and the incessant questions of the guy in front of me who wanted to know something about every pastry in the case.

And then it all fell away: the noise and the people. Because it wasn’t important. I was ultimately going to get my coffee and make my flight. And I thought about how helpful this ability to let go of unimportant annoyances would be for caregivers every day. Why did I save my hidden superpower until the end?

It now seems that caregiving built layers around me, like an onion or flower bud, that it is time to shed. At the center is me as I really am. Here, too, is my mother as she really was, without the disease. The next layers are the family and friends who have been on the journey with us. We are surrounded by the layer of the illness.

The next layers are the doctors, nurses and professionals who tried to help us along the way. There are the direct care workers from the assisted living facilities and those who came to our home. There are the medications, medical supplies, books and stuff we used along the way.

So now we don’t need these things or many of the people, and we will let them go. We will be forever grateful to the people who gave my mother the same love and care that we wanted to give her every day. And death has finally gotten rid of the illness that surrounded us.

After removing this layer of disease, we are back to just us: the family and friends. At the center is my mom as she always was before she was sick and will always be in my heart. And me – the person I always was and now the person I want to become in the future. Because I am different now, as we all are after this journey: I was a caregiver.

WellMed Charitable Foundation Executive Director Carol Zernial is a noted gerontologist, radio show host, and Chair of the National Council on Aging.  The non-profit WellMed Charitable Foundation focuses on complimentary programs impacting seniors and family caregivers, including weekly telephone learning sessions, evidence-based classes on stress reduction and more. Find out more at www.CaregiverSOS.org or  toll-free at 1-866-390-6491.

Carol Zernial, Vice President of Community Relations for WellMed Medical Management and Executive Director of the WellMed Charitable Foundation, will attend the White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA) on Monday, July 13. Carol-PR-Photo-10-1-11-SMALLER

She is among some 200 senior care professionals in the nation invited to participate in this once-a-decade event. Zernial has attended the past two WHCoA events; this is the first time she will be representing WellMed and its Foundation.

The White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA) is a conference held every 10 years sponsored by the Executive Office of the President of the United States. Conference-goers make policy recommendations to the President and Congress regarding older Americans.

President Obama is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at this year’s event, being held for the first time inside the White House.

“It’s an honor to be invited to the White House for any reason, much less for important discussions about guiding the future of effective aging policy in our nation,” said Zernial, who also serves as Chair of the National Council on Aging Board of Directors.

Landmark legislation that was the direct result of WHCoA recommendations include Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act of 1965, and the end of mandatory retirement for older people passed in 1981.

Delegates from across the country will visit the White House to identify issues affecting older Americans. This year the conference will focus on Baby Boomers, who in 2011 started qualifying for retirement and who are turning 65 at a rate of 10,000 daily. Specific areas to be addressed include health, long-term services and support, elder abuse and retirement security.

The White House will live stream the event at WhiteHouse.gov/live.

James Vanden Bosch is the founder and executive director of Terra Nova Films, Inc., a not-for-profit company specializing in the production and distribution of artistically excellent documentaries and educational videos.

Mr. Vanden Bosch has produced and distributed several films and videos which have received awards for their artistic merit and sensitivity, including My Mother, My Father (the emotional issues involved in caring for an aging parent); Elder Abuse: Five Case Studies; A Thousand Tomorrows: Intimacy, Sexuality, and Alzheimer’s, which received a Freddie Award, a Chicago International Film Fest Silver Plaque as well as a National Media OWL Award from the Retirement Research Foundation in 1995; and I’d Rather Be Home (documents the progression of an elder abuse case for over seven years), which received a National Media OWL Award, and a Gold Plaque Award from the International Film and Video Competition (Intercom) of Cinema-Chicago.

Originally aired on Caregiver SOS: On Air on NewsTalk 930 KLUP in San Antonio, TX on March 10, 2013. With co-hosts Carol Zernial and Ron Aaron.