This week I had an article written about me in the Vernon Morning Star, under the byline of Parker Crook. People say it tells a good story. I figure, why not share it with my readers? I'm just back from my book related trip to the Okanagan, and this piece helped me to find audiences that otherwise might have missed me. So thank you Parker! He writes....
As the median age rises steadily in Canada, concerns regarding palliative care rise with it
Fertility is down and people are living longer.
The answer to the conundrum, according to Qualicum Beach author Janet Dunnett, is the utilization of family caregivers. But it’s a hard job wrought with stress, difficulty, and long hours, which Dunnett resonates in her book, The Dwindling: A Daughter’s Caregiving Journey to the Edge of Life, for which she will hold an informal launch at Vernon’s Bookland Aug. 30 from 12 to 2 p.m., and a reading from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Okanagan Regional Library.
“My purpose, far beyond book selling, is to support the recognition, respect, and support given to unpaid family caregivers,” Dunnett said. “Getting to that requires those who know the story of caregiving to tell it with feeling and often, and with balance of course… There’s bliss with the grit.”
The Dwindling follows Dunnett’s decade long experiences of caregiving for her parents, and serves as a reflection for the stories of other caregivers.
“It was becoming clearer and clearer and clearer that my parents were fading,” Dunnett said. “(There were) all of the little signs that they weren’t going so smoothly.”
Dunnett lives on the Island, and throughout her caregiving, she assumed the role of daughter-at-distance for her parents in Calgary, and supported her sister as daughter-on-deck.
“More and more, daughters are caregiving at a distance,” Dunnett said. “But distance needn’t take anyone off the hook. Together, my sister and I found a way to work together and be there for the parents.”
Throughout their time caregiving, Dunnett, as a writer, kept a log of what had been occurring. It wasn’t until after her duties ceased that she realized it was a story she had to share.
“I was feeling that it was important to tell a certain story,” Dunnett said. “It was our story, but it was an important one.”
The Dwindling talks of Dunnett’s hardships during the caregiving process, whether its the constant travel or worrying from a distance, and the struggles that go along with it. However, through the hardhips came positivity.
“This is not all a negative story — it’s a crisis with an opportunity,” Dunnett said. “Out of it is a lot of strength too.”
Through caregiving for her parents, Dunnett said her family became closer. It brought her and her sister closer together, and ensured her of the shared love between Dunnett and her parents.
Though, with Canada’s aging population, Dunnett is concerned with the lack of potential caregivers for her generation: the baby boomers.
“As more and more of us close the line, fewer and fewer people are in line to take on the job of caregivers,” Dunnett said. “We’re in total denial that our time will come. For all those reasons, we’re just not paying enough attention to palliative care.”
This is particularly worrisome, Dunnett said, as Canada’s palliative care system is more a dream than a reality. The ending result is that caregivers are forced to be the glue that holds the health care system together.
“There’s this sense of unpreparedness for caregivers,” Dunnett said, adding that, with The Dwindling, she hopes to help remove the situation’s invisibility before it becomes a crisis.
It’s far from easy. Caregiving takes everything the caregiver has. But for Dunnett, it will always remain, “The hardest job I ever loved.”
This June I took up a challenge to flash write a little true story in under 250 words and in about an hour. The contest was put on by the Canada Writers in Victoria and, as always in that town, it drew a crowd of participants. Hey! I've got an honourable mention! It was good practice and even more, a way to pull back memories of that crazy time after the caregiving was over and before I decided I must write a book. Here's my flash truth.
“She looks familiar”, I thought, glancing her way.
It was fleeting because I needed to be somewhere else. This shrivelled old lady, wrapped in a rebozo against the Mexican morning’s chill, barred my way. She was not in a hurry.
“Buenas dias,” I said politely, peering at my watch and shrugging. Would she understand I had no time to talk?
I sniffed. That smell was just like Mom. On good day mornings in my months as Mom’s caregiver, the mix of cigarettes and coffee on her breath as I kissed her said she’d got out of bed, filled her percolator and lit a Rothmans or two. For now, Mom was not frozen in pain. It would be a good day.
And what about this senora’s back? It hunched in the same way Mom’s had. In the old days, kneading Mom’s hot spot signalled to me loud and clear if she was too sore for a planned outing. Ow! meant let me be.
Earlier that morning, I had been shocked to see my favourite picture of Mom ping onto my screensaver and get stuck there. Her head was thrown back in that signature belly laugh. Seeing it, my two year carapace of stoicism had split wide open and grief spilled out. I’d sobbed for hours. Now, looking at this old woman, I felt free.
She threw her head back, just as Mom did, and laughed that same deep throat joy. Suddenly, I knew.
“Sea feliz,” the crone rasped, backing away from me.
“OK Mom, if you say so. I will.”
I'm wondering. Has anyone reading this had an apparition from a dead parent?
it's about the journey
Caregiving was my first and finest journey. Writing this book about it was the next. It lends support to other caregivers who say, "that happened to me too." I'm on another journey now, advocating for caregiving and an activist to bring on better ways of thriving as we age. It's all brought me purpose and meaning, Come along and get some of that too! I'd love to share your stories. Boldly speaking out about our experiences makes us all part of the change we want to see. So
Join me! Let's talk!