Author and caregiver, Judith Henry, and her siblings may feel like meshuggenehs as they juggle care for their parents with humor and love. Many oy vey moments make The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving a fun read for caregivers who need information in easy-to-digest portions.
She describes in detail her father’s irrational behavior and the doctors say there’s nothing wrong. She tells them, “There is something amiss when a family of five has four people taking meds to deal with the one person who isn’t.” (Chapter 12)
Respecting your parents despite embarrassing moments in public. “My Dad Was a Lousy Tipper” offers a surprise twist at the end.
“We Were Never the Waltons” invites us to read, knowing that many of us also did not come from a family like the mountain family portrayed in the popular 1970s TV-series. Here, she offers some of the most palatable yet nonjudgmental suggestions with humor for collaborating with siblings that I’ve seen.
“Deconstructing a Life” is a phrase that aptly describes what we children do after one or both of our parents die, leaving a lifetime of accumulated possessions. “In My Father’s House There Are Many Boxes” describes how the siblings handle this in a creative and healthy way. For example, they invited their mother’s friends to choose a favorite piece her artwork before selling the rest. The friends share stories providing priceless memories. And there’s that not-to-be-missed side story about the orphan shredder.
The one-paragraph on Medicare benefits in chapter 15 gives the caregiver a quick overview without being bogged down.
Her three steps for choosing a skilled nursing facility in this same chapter are enhanced by her own experience following these steps.
She recognizes the reader may grow overwhelmed and expresses nonjudgmental humor at the end of chapter 3 about the documents every family caregiver needs. “Whew. This was a lot to take in and I think you’ve had enough reality for one chapter… Right now, go take a break. Hug your cat or kid or partner. A glass of wine might also be in order, unless you’re reading this at breakfast. Then again, who am I to judge?”
DEALING with DYING and GRIEF
She includes several chapters on grief and loss. In the “Using Laughter and Hospice in the Same Sentence” chapter she writes, “Broaching the subject of hospice with parents is not about giving up hope. It’s about making the most of the time they have remaining….”
She wonders if she should have included the chapter, “What Love Will Bear.” I’m glad she did because I found it one of the most moving chapters of her book. She admits to being just as stubborn as her father is, and perhaps draws on this as a source of strength, when she remains present until the end of both of her parents’ lives. She even accompanies the gurney carrying her late mother to the hearse.
She begs for forgiveness when she writes, “What a comfort to know [guilt] is not just for Jews anymore.” Yet, she has done a remarkable job of helping people feel okay with whatever direction they choose in their lives. In “The Cone of Uncertainty” chapter, she portrays with sensitivity how all is not as together as it seems on the surface. Despite her own tears at unexpected moments, she manages to navigate her way through grief and loss while reframing her life in the shadow of her parents’ legacies.
Her father used to ask, “What have you done of any consequence, today?” She replies, “Daddeo, I have written this book.”
I’m glad she did and I’m sure countless caregivers will also be glad.
The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving is worth reading by family caregivers and the professionals who help them.