COTY Award Winner: Craig Jennings, Port Washington, N.Y.

Denise

COTY Award Winner: Craig Jennings, Port Washington, N.Y.

Denise
Care recipient: Annie, Craig's wife, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. Annie is in remission.

Nominated by: Jane Harris, a friend; read the nominating letter

In Craig's words:

When I feel stressed, I: Don't recognize stress, but I work.

My current challenge is: Gaining more clients for my business coaching.

When I have an extra five minutes, I: Tell my wife how much I love her--thaaaaat much!  I do it daily, she loves it!

My mantra is: Learning more about loving

Recommended reading: The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon

The legacy I would leave to another family caregiver is: The Caregiver's Bill of Rights

My 2009 goal is: Feed my family, support my caregiving community.

After receiving a diagnosis of cancer, most care recipients and family caregivers begin the battle together against the disease. For Craig and Annie, two battles began, one against the disease and the other against each other.

Annie made decisions; Craig disagreed. Annie said, It’s my damned cancer. It was a month-long battle, with firm lines drawn in the sand.

“We had the worst month, we were both torn up, frightened, angry with each other. I couldn’t please her, she couldn’t please me. We were completing at odds, it was awful, we were so out sync in our lives,” Craig says.

But, something happened to Craig during the 30 days because when the month was up, he made a decision. He would continue his business of coaching (he’s a business coach) as long as clients called him. Otherwise, he was going to be the best damned caregiver ever.

And, that’s how they won the war. They beat the cancer (knock on wood) and saved their marriage. Craig, who did become the best damned caregiver, became tangible proof to Annie of his love for her. “Her perception of the sacrifices I made for her showed her that I loved her,” Craig says. “Before, she was never sure, for good and sufficient reasons.”

Prior to the diagnosis, Craig was a business man, in all aspects of his life. He was all business, all the time.

Annie’s cancer made his set his briefcase down and participate in his personal life in a way he hadn’t before. He attended a cancer support group for other caregiving spouses. Craig was only man in the group and the only member whose spouse was not terminal. “They were the 10 bravest women in the world, when all their partners were dying,” he says.

And, that’s when he made room beside his briefcase for a life outside of business. “I saw what my life without Annie would be like,” Craig ways. “Now, I tell her I love her every day. I surprise her every time I do it and she smiles in a way that she didn’t before. The business is this: Our relationship has never been anything like this, not even when we were dating.”

Their marriage of 25 years transferred into a marriage of absolute and unconditional love.  Now skilled in paradigm shifts, Craig turned to transforming other family caregivers. In October, he created a caregiving program featuring four speakers that drew 30 attendees. The success of that event led him to form a monthly support group for family caregivers.

On a recent Sunday in January, twelve family caregivers attended a support group meeting during which Craig supported each as they spoke their truths. “Family caregivers have two lives to live,” Craig says. “We don’t know how to manage both. At the meeting, each looked at what has been true for them and what they might try to accomplish.” At the meeting's end, Craig asked how many of the twelve would like to meet on a regular basis. Everyone said “yes.”

His business of loving Annie and supporting family caregivers is just beginning. “What I changed from and into has been wonderful,” Craig says.

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