Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2010-05-10
- Reviewer: Staff
Like the 44 million other Americans caring for an ill or elderly person in their homes, prolific writer Sheehy looked after her late husband Clay Felker while he battled cancer for more than a decade. Having already chronicled almost every stage in baby boomer life (most notably in 1976's Passages), Sheehy offers an empathetic, well-researched guide to an unfamiliar, often scary role to which boomers are being initiated, outlining eight stages of caregiving from "Shock and Mobilization" to "The Long Good-Bye." Along with doctors and nurses, home caregivers have become the backbone of the (admittedly broken) U.S. health-care system, and an increasingly important part of a patient's decision-making team. As such, Sheehy contends, caregivers are in desperate need of knowledge and support, and this resourceful manifesto provides it, including practical steps to take, strategies for each point of care, likely obstacles for both patient and caregiver, and a lucid explanation of what's to come: "My intention is to illuminate the challenges and rewards inherent in the caregiving passage--to identify universal patterns in the chaos and give the journey a form that makes sense." Sheehy achieves her goal ably, providing a steady beacon during a time of great sadness and overwhelming responsibility. (May)
A sensitive look at caring for an aging family member
Since publishing her groundbreaking book Passages in 1976, Gail Sheehy has trained her keen eye upon diverse facets of modern American culture and life: everything from war and politics to prostitution and menopause. Now she has taken on caregiving—an exploding social phenomenon that currently affects the lives of nearly 50 million American adults.
The call came one day when Sheehy was sitting in a beauty salon. It was about her husband, Clay. It was about cancer. In the ensuing weeks, her life changed radically: “I had a new role. Family caregiver.” Caring for an elder, once-independent adult—whether a parent, life partner, relative or friend—can be a heartbreaking and backbreaking full-time job, and most often one without pay. Sheehy was her husband’s primary caregiver for the last 17 years of his life, a process she believes is a journey that “opens up possibilities for true intimacy and reconnection at the deepest level.”
As we have come to expect from Sheehy, Passages in Caregiving is well and thoroughly researched, and the straight-talking narrative is a blend of trenchant yet sensitive prose, fact, story and strategy. Sheehy writes from her own “raw experience” of caregiving, weaving her personal story throughout, along with the stories of other families. She likens the caregiving journey to navigating the twists in a labyrinth, a device that, unlike the confounding riddle of a maze, “orders chaos.” She names eight major turnings around the labyrinth, from “shock and mobilization” through to “the long goodbye,” illustrates them with moving and apt personal stories, then offers practical resources and empowering strategies for coping with their challenges. There is, Sheehy says, “life after caregiving,” and Passages in Caregiving is a crucial roadmap to that new life.