I’m totally out of order: starting to read support books for caregivers now that I’m over the first big humps- somehow having survived Mom rooming with us while she was extremely unstable, and past the harrowing adventure of finding a residential placement within a very limited period of time.
Who has time to read when you’re going through that stuff?
Now that some mellower moments descend throughout the week, I’ve gotten piles of books out of the library about caregiving to see what I missed. And also to find out what I can still learn, even though I feel like I already crossed those bridges the hard, long, and mostly wrong ways.
To be honest, most of these kinds of caregiver manuals put me to sleep- especially a very popular one that I won’t name, recommended to me by the admissions staff at various assisted living places I visited. People who have never been caregivers themselves seem to believe that a dry-as-toast textbookish narration of the stark reality of parental care is just what a desperate daughter needs.
Well, maybe so for some, but personally I crave humor, quirkiness, good storytelling, or at the very least, some critical, deep thinking about all the gut-wrenching, controversial issues that keep throwing themselves in my lap every time I think we’re in a better place.
The Eldercare Handbook, by Stella Mora Henry, RN, provides the latter. Subtitiled “Difficult Choices, Compassionate Solutions,” her portable little masterpiece really delivers what it promises.
With the experience of an administrator, but the heart and soul of a caregiver, she’s able to see clearly on both sides of that often impenetrable wall. Best of all, she embraces, rather than avoids, the hardest, meatiest issues that other books skim over at best. (You feel like you might hit your parent, your siblings are giving you high blood pressure, your parent complains nonstop throughout your every visit, you feel it would be best to not disclose the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, and so on….)
After years of admittedly not quite understanding the angst of the families she served for so many years in the eldercare business, she suddenly ended up a distraught caregiver herself. She thus had a major epiphany that gave her the essential wisdom she needed to write a book that outlines all the important issues like many others, but surpasses that by providing incredibly helpful deeper insight.
Though the book is not even close to new, (published 2006,) it’s still way ahead of the pack in this genre, as far as I’ve seen. I noticed there’s a new Kindle edition out too, for those of you who don’t mind reading off a screen.
Introduction: “Be prepared to make mistakes and wish you had done things differently. If you are patient and kind to yourself, both you and your parent will benefit.”
p.9 “As a caregiver, you will always experience guilt to some degree, but once you acknowledge you can’t do everything for everybody, guilt loses some of its power.”
p.60 Here she discusses that you should be prepared to feel resentment (towards unhelpful or interfering siblings, or friends and spouses who don’t understand, etc…) and explains how to transform it to avoid becoming drained and immobilized by these feelings.
My other favorite topics in this book:
- different styles and stages of coping
- red flags to watch for with your parents (and yourself)
- strategies to deal with your angry parent
- ways to discern whether your parent is better off at home with you or in a residence
- how to cope with residential issues that will surface: “caregivers you feel strange about, the $ and dentures disappearing, the CNA who can’t speak English, the not so nourishing food”
My one criticism of this book is that the author doesn’t acknowledge male caregivers at all, always referring to daughters and females doing the work. Men have always been caregivers too, their numbers are increasing rapidly (I know a few of various ages), and they need plenty of support too!
That aside, Stella Mora Henry, the author of The Eldercare Handbook, has walked the walk and knows how not to waste a caregiver’s precious time. It’s easy to skim the sections of her book that don’t apply to you, and head more deeply into the issues that are relevant. This can be accomplished within an hour or two, well worth the time. This book would also be a fantastic gift for someone who’s just considering stepping into the realm of caregiving, and doesn’t quite know what s/he is in for.