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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published May 16 2010

Bursack: Sheehy’s ‘Passages’ delivers

Dear Readers: I was sent a review copy of Gail Sheehy’s new book, “Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos into Confidence.” I find it to be a well-researched guide to nearly every challenge family caregivers face.

Sheehy, the author of 15 books, lends credibility to her work as she describes her 17 years as her husband’s caregiver. “Passages in Caregiving” is a skillful mix of direct information and personal storytelling, that speaks to caregivers of all types. It’s well-organized for ready reference yet holds the reader with a personal touch.

Sheehy identifies eight universal turns in what she terms the “labyrinth of caregiving.” Her caregiving experience started as a shock, so she begins with the first stage, which she calls “shock and mobilization.” She touches on family dynamics and on disagreeing with diagnoses, plus offers some strategies she wishes she had known when her caregiving began.

She goes on to define something many long-term caregivers know well: the “new normal.” The caregiver’s life has changed drastically, and there’s no going back. Sheehy stresses that you can’t do this alone.

Even realizing that you can’t handle it all alone, the caregiver often finds that he or she becomes hypervigilant about the caregiving role. She terms this stage “playing God.” Anyone who has cared for a sick loved one will recognize the guilty feeling of never thinking you’ve done enough. Sheehy points out how harmful this is to the caregiver’s own health.

She then writes about a stage that most long-term caregivers reach, that of reaching out for help. Sheehy says, and I agree, that most caregivers wait too long to ask for help.

Sheehy addresses the next stage as “coming back,” where a caregiver appreciates himself for all he’s done. I’m not sure all caregivers get to that stage, but one can hope. She labels the last two stages the “in-between” and the “long goodbye.” When we hear the words “the long goodbye,” we generally think of Alzheimer’s disease. However, there are many other long, slow diseases that can suck our loved ones from our lives bit by bit. Sheehy offers help to get through these stages.

Along with practical advice for financial, medical and emotional help, Sheehy reminds caregivers to savor the precious moments of this journey with their loved one.

In my opinion, “Passages in Caregiving” is well worth the price of $27.99 for the hard copy. The book is published by Morrow and is currently available in bookstores and online.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.