Caring for Yourself While Caring for Your Aging Parents: How to Help, How to Survive
Claire Berman (New York: Henry Holt Publishers) 255 pages.
Statisticians and demographers keep telling us that we are going to have a massive number of frail elderly in a few years. The oldest of the Baby Boomers are now 70. What does this mean for us as a society? What might it mean for the church?
It means that there are going to be more and more people developing diseases and conditions of old age. It means that there are going to be more and more family and friends challenged with the task of helping to care for someone who was, once, a caregiver him or herself.
This book (published in 1996) was given to me some years ago. Insides there is a note that reminds me it came from one of my “more mature” moms. [One of the benefits of having grown up in one congregation is that I have a number of surrogate parents, and as we were the youngest family in that particular circle (mainly choir families) all the surrogate parents are “more mature”]. I had never made myself read it. My official reason is that I have never gotten around to it. Unofficially I suspect it is because it is always challenging to think of one's parents (surrogate and actual) as getting to that point of needing care.
The beauty of this book is that it does not grow out of some “expert” deciding to tell people what they need to know. Instead it grows out of the author's own experience, buttressed by research and interview both with caregivers and with professionals in the field. It is inherently practical and down to earth and honest. It names tasks but also talks about the emotional and mental toll that comes with this new way of being with your parent.
In these pages we find tips and resources, a “where to look” sort of thing (though as a US publication these “where to look” type tips are of less direct use for us in Canada). We find stories that show us where some of the greatest rewards and challenges come from. We find warnings about what could go “wrong”. We find reassurance that there is no right way to do this caregiving. And at the end of each chapter we find a bulleted summary of what was just discussed.
In the future the church is going to be filled with both the “frail elderly” and the family and friends who are helping them. As leaders in the church we need to develop tools to help support these people. Or maybe redevelop/reawaken those tools and skills because I think once upon a time we (as a community) had them. With each new generation there are new wrinkles – distance between family members in a much more mobile culture being a big one. But we have the tools within our communities to do it.
My biggest quibble with the book was that, being 20 years old, it was missing a big piece of the resource side – the online world. Then today I was looking at the Chapters website and found that the bookhas been reissued in 2005 with that piece added in.
Our parents will age. (So will we). Most of them (and us) will lose functioning to one degree or another for one reason or another. Some faster, some slower, some sooner, some later. We (and those who will care for us) will all have to adapt to a new reality. It is good to have resources that will help us make the shift.