Carol Bradley Bursack, Published November 30 2008
Book offers great advice to caregiversDear Readers: Have you ever visited a doctor with an elder and wondered if that physician knows what it’s like to love someone who must live with such struggles? Unfortunately, it’s happened to me several times. These physicians are not bad people, but it’s obvious to me that they really don’t understand.
I’ve also talked with health care professionals who have told me that being the adult child or parent of the person needing help is an entirely different experience than being the health care provider. They find themselves as frustrated with the health system as the rest of us.
One doctor, a geriatrician named Cheryl E. Woodson, addresses this issue and many others in her excellent reference/support book titled, “To Survive Caregiving: A Daughter’s Experience, A Doctor’s Advice on Finding Hope, Help and Health.”
Woodson wrote “Survive” as a geriatrician and as a daughter. In her book, Woodson writes of the last hours of her mother’s life,
“… as I knelt as her bedside … I was Dr. Geriatrics of the Planet; I had made all of the big decisions and I had cared for Mother over the years, but that day, I was just a grieving child.”
There is humor and wisdom throughout the book. There is information that came from textbooks. But there is also knowledge that comes from the heart and experience of a daughter. Woodson is a spiritual woman and her beliefs are evident throughout “Survive.” Her feelings on almost every stage of caregiving mesh so closely with mine that, as I told her in a phone conversation, “… I feel like this woman somehow got into my head.”
She tells it how she sees it. One thing she sees often is that our culture doesn’t accept death. When Woodson describes how her family reacted to their mother’s Alzheimer’s disease, she writes, “We were able to face her transition, because our family did not function under three fallacies many people cling to: Death is optional, Technology is God, and Death is failure.”
In a chapter on the failure of public policy concerning elders, Woodson addresses the issue that many more geriatricians will be needed to care for our aging population and that our system doesn’t support that medical model.
I hear often from people in agony about a long-ago promise they can no longer honor. They promised their once healthy parents that they’d never put them in a nursing home. They now find themselves faced with the unthinkable: An elder who no longer can be safely cared for in any other manner. They must break their promise, and the guilt is overwhelming.
Woodson addresses this issue beautifully in the chapter “Honoring the Spirit of the Promise.”
This book nails key caregiving issues. I strongly recommend “To Survive Caregiving.” You will enjoy reading the book. You will also find yourself quoting it to your friends, family and likely to your elders’ physicians.
“To Survive Caregiving,” is available through www.woodsonctr.com, a site that offers other important information as well.
Bursack is the author of “Minding Our Elders,” a support book on family elder care, and maintains a Web site at www.mindingourelders.com. To view past columns, go to www.inforum.com and click on columnists. Readers can reach Bursack at firstname.lastname@example.org or write her at
The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107