Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of profiles highlighting the diverse interests and careers of VSCPA members. Know a member (including yourself) who would make for an interesting profile? Email VSCPA Communications Specialist Chip Knighton.
For VSCPA member Garland Creighton, CPA, his parents, Garland Sr. and Fredricka, were his rock and his greatest inspiration. Now he’s paying tribute to them and helping others at the same time.
Creighton, a sole proprietor in Richmond, does tax work for individuals, partnerships and corporations. But while he’s had his usual hectic busy season, he’s had other things taking up his time as well. His second book, Coming Alongside: Exchanging the Anguish and Heartache of Caregiving for Laughter, Love and Peace of Mind, is set for release in June, and it’s inspired by his own experiences taking care of his aging parents over the last decade.
Creighton’s parents were living in their native Stamford, Conn., when Fredricka began showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease. As caring for her grew more difficult for Garland Sr., Creighton and his sister convinced their parents to relocate to Richmond and move to an assisted living facility in 2007. He had no way of knowing how difficult the transition would be.
“The initial adjustment for me was submitting to the idea of taking care of your parent,” Creighton said. “You’re parenting your parent. That’s a whole different experience. You’ve always been the child, essentially, and now your parents are in a place where they’re older, they’re going through an aging process and their minds and bodies are becoming a bit fragile. They need your help.”
While it took some getting used to, Creighton was happy to assume the role of caregiver to the blue-collar parents who worked hard to put him through school. When he graduated from Virginia State University, he became the first member of his family to graduate from college.
“Education was always very important to my parents,” Creighton said. “My mom, through doing domestic work, would see how, through education, there were doors that were opened for so many other individuals.”
He later earned his graduate degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and worked for Peat, Marwick & Mitchell (later KPMG) and as the budget director for the United Way of Virginia. He left the United Way 30 years ago to open his own practice, which he still runs out of his home office.
Coming Alongside isn’t Creighton’s first book. A decade ago, he wrote an accounting-related book, Shoeboxes Are for Shoes, that he self-published, like his most recent effort.
Despite his professional experience and publishing history, Coming Alongside doesn’t focus on the financial aspects of caregiving, although it does offer advice on topics such as document retention. Instead, Creighton discusses the psychological and emotional effects of the caregiving role.
“I’ve since discovered that there are so many other people who are in the same position,” he said. “All of a sudden you’ll find yourself in a caregiving responsibility. You just don’t know what to expect. So the book is not a how-to book. It’s a book sharing our experiences to help the reader get some understanding about the things they should expect as they assume the role of caregiver.
“…The intent is to get this into the hands of those who are serving as caregivers. It’s not focused on how many books I can sell, but how many people I can assist and share my experience so that their experience can be less burdensome.”
And he knows from experience that the adjustment can feel like a major burden.
“You’re feeling, ‘I don’t have a life anymore. All I do is take care of my parents,’” he said. “I think for men in particular — not exclusively — we have a tendency to lean into, ‘Yeah, but what about me? What about the things that I want to do?’ And you have to be willing to commit and make that sacrifice that this is no longer about me.”
Once he worked through the psychological implications, Creighton relished the responsibility, referring to the caregiving task as a “calling” and a “life-changing experience.” At first, his parents were in an independent living facility, but they had to move to a more structured environment as his mother’s condition worsened.
“There’s part of Alzheimer’s called sundowning,” he said. “That’s where the Alzheimer’s victim, if you will, no longer can distinguish between night and day and what’s going on. So my mom would sleep a lot during the day and she would literally be up all night because she couldn’t sleep. Later on, we found out, in the later stages of my dad’s life, he was staying up all night with her out of concern that she would start wandering.”
Garland Creighton Sr. died in 2010 after a 63-year marriage to his childhood sweetheart, and Fredricka followed the next year. While watching them decline was difficult for Creighton, he’s grateful that he got a few more years with them close by — and for the opportunity to help repay what they gave him as a child.
“We’re so glad that they had the opportunity to spend the last years of their lives together, here with us as a family,” he said.