Make this book your “new best friend.”
It’s not often that I find a “reference book” that also contains poignant, inspiring and sometimes heartbreaking stories, along with resources that I know I’ll refer to again and again. Gail Sheehy’s Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos into Confidence is such a book.
I was already a fan of Sheehy’s writing, having read five of her 15 best-selling books, when I happened to find this one in Costco! It’s now available for even less on Amazon: $11.20 in hardback and $10.67 for Kindle. If I were you, I’d go for the hardback version, because it’s the kind of book you’ll want to mark up and flip back and forth in, which I find hard to do on my Kindle.
If books can be a “best friend,” then this book is certainly one of mine. I have already gone through several caregiving passages with my 94-year-old father, who currently is quite independent. But I know other passages that I need to be prepared for lie ahead in the not-too-distant future. I’ve been the primary short-term caregiver for my single friend through two knee replacement surgeries. My 74-year-old husband already finds, when he’ll admit it, that he can’t do some of the things he used to do. Younger than he is, I am already pushing down irritation over the additional things I have to do for him. I see many years of caregiving and referring to Sheehy’s book for help and comfort in my future.
Sheehy knows firsthand the trials, fears and “rare joys” of caregiving. Her book chronicles her role as leader of her husband’s “caregiving team,” through his long battle with throat cancer. Her stories and those of other caregivers she’s known and researched are interspersed with easily-distinguishable gray boxes containing Strategies for dealing with the problems that the caregivers in the true accounts are facing or will surely have to face at some point in their loved one’s life. When you read the stories, you realize you’re not alone in what you’re going through, and the Strategies give you valuable information that will boost your confidence in what you’re doing, as well as other resources to turn to when you “just can’t do this anymore.”
There are several ways to benefit from owning this book. You can read it straight through (371 pages with 10 additional pages of resources), but you don’t have to. Sheehy provides a 10-page Table of Contents to lead you to the specific challenge you need help with, as well as an alphabetical index. You can also follow just her story of her husband’s illness, because the print that documents her narrative is italicized.
Sheehy identifies eight crucial stages of caregiving and offers insight for successfully navigating each one, whether yours happen in this sequence or not. They are Shock and Mobilization, The New Normal, Boomerang, Playing God, “I Can’t Do this Anymore!”, Coming Back, The In-Between Stage and The Long Good-Bye. Each passage is then broken down into related issues, challenges and coping strategies.
One of the services Sheehy recommends several times is the free “Powerful Tools for Caregivers” training program. It is available in 32 states, including West Fargo and Park River, ND. If you are interested in participating in the 6-week class for family caregivers or becoming trained as a PTC class Leader, you can email Leslie Congleton, Program Director, or call 503.719.5893. The companion book for the class, The Caregiver Helpbook, is an excellent stand-alone resource and may be purchased on their website.
Early in the book Sheehy explains, “A major goal of this book is to redefine the role of caregiver from solitary sacrificial lamb, shouldering the whole burden alone, to compassionate coach who learns how to attract and assemble a circle of care. The pool of recruits can be surprisingly large—family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, community resources, student volunteers, perhaps some paid aids. With direction and inspiration, they can keep the caregiver healthy and give the ailing family member the greatest elixir—warm human connections” Then she proceeds to give very explicit advice and real live examples regarding how to accomplish that sometimes seemingly impossible goal.
As the oldest of nine siblings who currently provides most of the family-member care for my dad, I was especially interested to find that my situation as the one “most responsible” is not at all unusual. In fact it is the norm. I laughed out loud when I read, “When your sister or brother calls in from the other side of the country to insist that you’re headed in the wrong direction, remember this: The farther away they live, the quicker they assume you don’t know what you’re doing.” I then turned down the corner of page after page that gave me excellent advice on how to relieve the stress of my situation, especially by expanding my care circle, in spite of the fact that, “Research has warned us not to expect great support from siblings in a family caregiving crisis.” One piece of advice that it might not be too late for me or you to follow is to “introduce other family members, friends, or care helpers early, before your loved one and your siblings and relatives get used to you being the family hero—the solitary caregiver.”
Before you get to the point where you feel like “I just can’t do this anymore,” or even if you’re already there, read Sheehy’s book, and remember that DTN Home Care can help expand your circle of care by providing services to people with high acuity medical needs, around-the-clock or as needed. We assign an experienced case manager and registered nurse to visit the home, evaluate and assess the person’s needs and work with the client, family and home care staff to draft and implement an individualized plan of care. To inquire about in home healthcare from DTN Home Care for yourself or a loved one, call 701.663.5373.
By Marti Lythgoe, Freelance Writer & Editor