Friday, May 27, 2016

Book Review: Caregiving

A Fair Trade Book?

Title: Caregiving 

Author: E. Jane Mall

Date: 1990

Publisher: Ballantine

ISBN: 0-345-36460-0

Length: 229 pages

Quote: "You can't teach her about proper nutrition. She already knows what a proper diet is; she simply doesn't care."

Caregiving is for anyone taking responsibility for an aging parent (written about mothers, largely applicable to fathers). Mall was a Christian and, so far as I can determine, still is. Some of her other books are more specifically Christian; this one is clearly meant to interest readers of any faith or none.

How well can she explain the idea of caring for an aging parent? Well...she wrote this book with, and probably for, her daughter. She was born in 1920. She's not very active in cyberspace, but her writing is well documented and nothing about her death or disability is documented. I would imagine she was as good a teacher of this subject as anybody.

The difficulty is of course that caregiving is inherently so complicated. "[C]aregivers take on the role but too often are incapable of meeting all of the elderly parent's needs. They're not even sure what those needs are," because, in practice, those needs change from day to day. That "unique mother-daughter relationship" is part of the specific definition of an individual's caregiving experience, but not nearly as big a part as the parent's actual condition.

Whether you're a son or a daughter, caring for a father, mother, aunt, uncle, grandparent, older cousin, or friend...recognizing and adjusting to changes is always key. One year, ideally for many years, all your elder really expects or needs may be a phone call--daily if you live in the "local calling area," weekly or monthly if you don't. Then s/he is ill and needs you to run errands, visit daily, clean, drive, supervise hired help, even move in. Then s/he recovers and might really prefer that you move out again and carry on with your own life. On and on it goes. Most, not all, parents become disabled and die before their custodial children do.

So how much is it possible to learn from a book on this subject? Depends on what your parents have already taught you. If you grew up with grandparents in residence, for whom your parents were the "caregivers," you may have absorbed all the information in this book. (Buy it anyway; during the most stressful times you're likely to share with your parents, a pre-printed checklist of things to do before a real crisis can be good to have.) If your grandparents died suddenly while your parents were young, you may never have thought much about the kind of relationship into which you and they may get.

There's nothing quite like Caregiving and, in its general way, this book contains very sage and practical advice.

"The picture of the old woman searching for her glasses while they are perched on top of her head...could just as well be a young woman."

"Myth: Old people...become frail and helpless. Sure, but we're talking real old-old here. Like close to one hundred. Most of the elderly...walk, exercise, take care of themselves...don't become frail and helpless for a long time. Don't baby your mother...Help her keep her strength."

"I am here! Those are my groceries. Talk to me. Ask me what I want."

(For the record, the "black-haired twits" who act as if competent senior citizens needed to have everything translated through their younger associates have always annoyed me too. Many of my paternal relatives did lose hearing with age; my grandmother at 70, and my mother and maternal aunt at 80, probably heard more than I've heard since age 30. And even if we'd been at Johns Hopkins rather than another, deservingly unrenowned, university hospital where we shared many snarky laughs at the black-haired twits, my husband might still have had the highest I.Q. score in the place. Most young people in these United States don't seem to grow up among a lot of different elders, so don't realize how differently people age. I suppose it's understandable when fifteen-year-old bag boys are clueless, but it's a disgrace that university-age nurses and interns in hospitals are.)

"Perhaps your mother is living in her home and it's much too big for her and too far from your home...Trying to force her to move would be wrong and most likely futile, can be prepared...Try not to get impatient."

"No much she loves her grandchildren, don't regard her as your built-in baby-sitter."

There's more. Quite a lot more. And young people need to absorb all of it. If you are young enough to be able to read (even with glasses), and are not wheelchair-bound, you're likely to be called on to be someone's "caregiver" at some point; therefore you should read Caregiving. If all the information seems familiar, based on what your parents taught you by example, you are blessed and can pass the book on to someone who's been less privileged.

If you hurry up and buy it now, it's still a Fair Trade Book: $5 per copy + $5 per package (you could probably get four copies of this book into one package, or mix it up with three other books for the same $5 shipping fee). That adds up to $10 for one copy, from which we send 10%, or $1, to Mall or a charity of her choice. If you order four copies, you pay $25 and Mall or her charity gets $4.