Friday, November 2, 2012

Strong, Smart Women Wrestling with Caregiving

Photo by On Being
Over the last three years, I have tried to read broadly about the challenges and opportunities of aging.  Now that I've consumed over 50 books on the topic, I'm seeing a few trends. For example, several long-established, best-selling authors are now writing books about caregiving. They are doing so because they have become caregivers themselves.

Diane Ackerman writes about supporting her husband after his stroke in her 2001 book One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, a Marriage and the Language of Healing.   Because she and her husband are both writers, Ackerman chose to design a speech therapy program unique to his love of language  Review

Jane Gross describes how she advocates for her mother over several years and several levels of health, showing how caregiving is an ever-evolving activity in her 2011 book A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents--and OurselvesReview

Betty Rollin explains her perspective as an adult child trying to help her mother manage a devastating cancer diagnosis and invasive treatment in her 1998 book The Last WishReview.

Gail Sheehy once again helps her age mates map out the landscape of a life stage--based on her experience providing care for her husband as well as journalistic-style interviews and research--but this time the path is more recursive than linear in her 2010 book Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos into Confidence. Review

Paula Span found that supporting her aging parent trickier than she anticipated, so she dove into the topic and followed other pairs of adult children and their parents through their challenges and produced this 2010 book When The Time Comes: Families with Aging Parents Share Their Struggles and SolutionsReview

Many of these women have served for the past three or four decades as "The Voice of a Generation," but here they are showing vulnerabilities, loss, confusion and a little bit of terror as they face the task of supporting family members with day-to-day needs.  Gone is the glamour as they talk about bodily functions, financial hardships and painful shifts in the dynamics of their family relationships.

True, many of them have immense resources for addressing caregiving: research skills, contacts, and above-average income. However, even these women with greater resources than the average caregiver reveal how the task can bankrupt them financially, emotionally, spiritually.

By drawing on deep reservoirs of personal character, each of these women finds strength--although sometimes fleeting.  And they find wisdom, which they share in the pages of their books. But more than that, they offer compassion to all those walking the difficult-yet-oft-rewarding path of caring for a loved one during a time of great need.

For more discussion on the topic of caregiving, please view the video below of Jane Gross speaking at the Hastings Center.  She starts her 30 minute presentation at 7:55 (with an introduction prior and discussion from the audience following).


The Ultimate Performance Art: Love, artistry born out of caregiving
Books on Aging
Films about Aging A-L


  1. I've been part of a caregiving team and I can attest to how deeply difficult it is.

  2. Wow, so many great books here to offer support. These will help a lot of people who are doing such difficult, compassionate work.

  3. It is wonderful there are so many avenues of support for caregivers now. They are all truly needed.

  4. Thanks for telling us about all these great books.

  5. wow, these are awesome resources. thanks so much for sharing with us.

  6. Excellent resources. Thank you. I've always wondered if there are many books by adult children who became the caregiver of a parent they truly did not get along with for most of their life. (Not that that's me, but it would be interesting to see it from that angle.)

  7. You, as usual, listed a few books I did not know about! Thank you! And thank you for highlighting the fact that there are resources and support for those in the midst of a huge challenge. Love it Karen.

  8. I am quite sure that the wisdom that these authors bring to their subject matter is priceless, particularly for folks who are attempting to navigate the same landscape.

  9. Each of these books look very interesting. It is amazing to me how many different stories can come from being a caregiver, I think that is so inspiring.

  10. Personal stories resonate so much with me and your description of each women's ability to be vulnerable gave me reason to pause. Thank you for providing this resource of books.

  11. THanks so much for this list of books. As I navigate the new daily life of caregiving to my mom who has Alzheimer's this will be a great help to me to find my way!