The Bookworm Sez

Book Review: "Passages in Caregiving"

By Terri Schlichenmeyer
Real AspenAugust 21, 2010
These were supposed to be the best years of your life.

“Passages in Caregiving” by Gail Sheehy c.2010, William Morrow $27.99 / $29.99 Canada 397 pages, includes index

Buy it on Amazon now!

With the kids on their own and the mortgage paid, you were looking forward to spending time with your spouse, traveling, finding a new hobby, getting to know one another again.

This sweet Second Adulthood was made for enjoyment.

Then the diagnosis arrived.

Suddenly, by default or by choice, carefree plans are replaced with caring for spouse or parent. Suddenly, you feel like you’ve been dropped into a foreign land with no GPS. That, says author Gail Sheehy, is when you need to reach out because you can’t do it alone. In her new book “Passages in Caregiving”, you’ll learn more.

Clay Felker was already a legend when Gail Sheehy met him in 1965. He was a powerful editor and magazine creator, a “life-force”. She was a young reporter who was attracted to him instantly.

After a whirlwind courtship of seventeen years, they were married. Not a decade later, Felker was diagnosed with cancer for the first time and was successfully treated. When the cancer returned, returned, and returned again, Sheehy, herself a journalist and author, learned that life would never go back to “normal”.

In about one-third of American households, someone is acting as caregiver. The average caregiver is a forty-something woman who also holds down a full-time job. In all likelihood, she still has dependent children at home. Her role lasts an average of five years and during that time, she has a good chance of having health problems of her own due to stress.

Sheehy likens the path that a caregiver walks to a labyrinth and she says that, much like Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief, there are eight “turnings” that a caregiver walks. You will be shocked, and fly into action. Once the crisis has seemingly passed, you’ll settle into a “new normal”, until the affliction or need for care “boomerangs”. Back in caregiving mode, you’ll think you can do it all alone, but you’ll realize that you can’t. You’ll be frustrated. You’ll learn to say goodbye.

In between, Sheehy says, take abundant notes. Ask for help, then do it again. Find a “quarterback” and gather advocates on your medical team. Watch for depression, both in yourself and your loved one. Take advantage of local programs and agencies. Don’t even try to be a silent hero.

Looking ahead for what-if? You should be. And you should read this book.

“Passages in Caregiving” is a love letter and a eulogy wrapped up in bedlam and education, disguised as a useful self-help how-to. It’s instructional, down to the nitty-grittiest of details, which pushes it beyond merely helpful. It’s going to make you spitting mad, and it’s going to make you grieve. And it’ll make you think even further into the future: who’ll take care of YOU?

This is one of those books that nobody wants to read but everyone over 40 should, whether they need it now or not. For Boomers, seniors, Gens X and Y, “Passages in Caregiving” should not be passed up.

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