Caring for a parent or spouse can be thankless, heartbreaking, uplifting, exhausting and fulfilling — often all at once.
The following authors, caregivers themselves, share their experiences in books filled with courage, raw emotion and no-holds-barred honesty (including some none-too-pretty scenes of caregiver meltdown). The common thread: Caring for someone you love may be the hardest work you'll ever tackle, but the rewards — love given, love returned — can be unexpectedly rich.
See also: Important resources for caregivers.
The Caregiving Wife's Handbook: Caring for Your Seriously Ill Husband, Caring for Yourself
by Diana B. Denholm
Through profiles of six women tending to ailing husbands (and her own 11 years as a caregiver), psychotherapist Denholm reveals some brutally heartbreaking truths behind the facades of cheerful, selfless devotion. "Why doesn't anybody ask how I'm doing?" one wife laments. Anger, sadness and weariness are here, but so are survival tips (ask for help, get away occasionally and yes, have a little fun). How these very real women cope — or don't — will strike a chord with any struggling caregiver.
AARP is here to help you. Visit our Caregiving Message Boards to voice your questions and concerns with other AARP members.
Takeaway tip: Caregiving ain't for sissies — or saints. Vent, cry, laugh — but above all, take care of yourself.
A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents — and Ourselves
by Jane Gross
$15.95 paperback, $11.99 e-book
Gross, a former New York Times reporter (and founder of the blog "The New Old Age"), alternates a personal story — her mother's three-year decline and death at age 88 — with a national issue: the state of elder care in this country. A Bittersweet Season is frank and full of good advice (never let a parent go to the ER unattended, for example). "How do we become our parents' parents without robbing them of their dignity?" the author wonders. As she figures that out for herself on a day-by-day basis, Gross also reassures her readers that "being clueless is the central and unavoidable part of this experience."
Takeaway tip: Most bad decisions are made during a crisis; refuse to be rushed by doctors or anyone else.
Next: How do I deal with my spouse's Alzheimer's disease? »
10,000 Joys and 10,000 Sorrows: A Couple's Journey through Alzheimer's
by Olivia Hoblitzelle
$16.99 paperback, $13.99 e-book
Hoblitzelle's title reflects her Buddhist leanings ("Accept everything") and accurately sums up the mix of anguish — and, surprisingly, joy — that washed over her and her husband of 35 years, Hob, as they dealt with his Alzheimer's. When the couple embarked on this final chapter of their marriage, she knew "love was the thread that would hold us no matter what." Her greatest help turned out to be Hob himself, who managed to hang on to his wry sense of humor even as Alzheimer's tightened its grip.
Takeaway tip: Accept it all: the love, the exasperation, the loneliness — even, sometimes, the unexpected satisfactions.
Visit our Health home page to find the latest information on Alzheimer's and other health conditions.
by Roger Rosenblatt
$21.99 hardback, $9.99 e-book
Rosenblatt's caregiving journey was of a different sort: He and his wife moved in with, and helped care for, his three young grandchildren after his daughter died suddenly, at 38, of a rare heart condition. This understated exploration of grief, resilience and the quiet satisfactions of simply getting up every day — and making perfect toast for the people you cherish — is moving and inspiring. "I've led a charmed life," Rosenblatt reflects. "I have not been a long-distance runner, and now I need to confront the long haul." Without quite realizing it, he does exactly that. (The author's meditation on grief — and coming to terms with loss — continues in Kayak Morning: Reflections on Love, Grief, and Small Boats, published in January.)
Takeaway tip: Get up each day and do what needs to be done. Over time, something like grace will find you.
Next: AARP's complete caregiving guide. »
When the Time Comes: Families with Aging Parents Share Their Struggles and Solutions
by Paula Span
$23.99 hardback, $9.99 e-book
Journalist Span — who wrote this just as she was beginning the caregiving journey with her own widowed father, now in his late 80s - interviews families determined to "step up" as they are thrust into caring for their elderly parents. Can't our parents stay at home? Should they move in with us? What about assisted living? Aren't nursing homes awful?
Her families ask all these questions, struggle to find the right answers, fight and learn. In the end, most find solutions — not perfect solutions, but ones both they and their parents can live with. "I don't think heroic too strong a word for [these] families," Span concludes. Whether you've "been there" yet or not, you're likely to agree.
Takeaway tip: Try not to be too hard on yourself. Sometimes "good enough" is the best you can do — and that's OK.
Caring for Your Parents: The Complete Family Guide — Practical Advice You Can Trust from the Experts at AARP
by Hugh Delehanty and Elinor Ginzler
AARP's own caregiving guide covers all the dilemmas children of aging parents are likely to face: tricky conversations about finances; understanding what constitutes normal aging; exploring housing alternatives; becoming your parents' advocate; taming the Medicare beast; learning to take care of yourself, or "care for the caregiver"; and dealing with end-of-life issues. The coauthors provide checklists for everything from evaluating nursing homes to calculating your parents' net worth (yikes!). If you're about to set foot on the path of caring for your parents, this primer may be a reassuring step.
Takeaway tip: Caregiving can be overwhelming. But from government agencies to a neighbor next door, help is available; just ask.
Julie Kimball is a writer and editor in Bonita Springs, Fla.
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