This was my suitcase filled with pocket sized notebooks. It was step one in my writer's process.
I started out 2018 with a request from a group in North Vancouver. Would I answer some questions for the newsletter? One area where this group was curious was my writer's journey. I realized that this might make an interesting blog, so here goes.
1. Tell our readers a little about your journey to writing this book. What prompted you to start?
When my caregiving years ended in 2011, I thought I wanted to get back to my life-interrupted. But I moped, I fiddled, and I knew I was in a stall. People said I was grieving. I knew it was more than that. Those old goals belonged to a version of myself that was gone. Caregiving had transformed me. It was Judi, my twin and co-caregiver (daughter on deck while I was daughter at a distance) who could feel my malaise and offer a way out. “You are a writer,” she said, “And you have a story. So tell it. Writing a book is your new normal.” So I began.
Writing the book was a challenge. I had ten years of hoarded information. It filled the room that had once been where my parents stayed on their respite visits. Now it was my writing space. A stack of records of our care conferences covered a carpet stain that I recalled with a smile as the spot where the full commode tipped over. The visitors books, kept for years for visitors to report their impressions, so the day to day perspective of others, not the caregiver twins, could be preserved. Those books became the header to my year by year paper piles that covered the floors. On every wall space, a forest of sticky notes grew. It was a timeline to help me recover details of what happened when. Names of specialists and other important people were in pink, my flashbacks to troubled times were captured in fluorescent yellow, and those events that looking back seemed to be turning points were lime green. And so I pieced together the details of what had been a fog and the book outline took shape on the wall.
Early versions of the manuscript were heavy with sadness and even guilt. Had I done right by Mom and Dad? Then there were a few angry versions while I processed feelings around the support that did not come. Subsequent versions gradually found the balance between dark and light. I was almost there. Coming to the final versions, I began to see the arc of the story and that my narrative had much in common with the journeys of other caregivers I was meeting. “Yes” my early readers said, “I see my story reflected in yours. Keep going."
My darkest day though was when my brother, hearing me describe my progress in a voice I knew was too passionate for his taste, said dismissively, “No one will want to read that.” Thunk! That one negative, delivered in a minute long conversation, snuffed my zeal for months. Again, Judi came to my rescue. We talked through this writer’s block. We talked about siblings and my fears of hurting them or our relationship by speaking my truth which might not coincide with theirs. We agreed that this brother had been the least helpful to our parents in their dwindling. By what right could he quash this story? So I began again, now with a tougher skin but more aware of my brother’s partial truth. Denial would be a force limiting my readers. There would be many who might love the book but resist in case it dug up old bones for them.
Four years from the day I took up my pen, the book manuscript was launched in a coffee party on Mother’s Day 2017. From that day forward, my life has speeded up. I had started as a caregiver, became an author, and now I was emerging as an advocate for the recognition, respect and support to caregivers, and a boost in quality care available at the edge of life.
2. You have mentioned in interviews that writing was a way to cope when you were caring for your parents. Can you offer tips for caregivers wishing to use writing as a coping tool?
Don’t just wish to write. Do it!
I used little coil notebooks that fit into my purse and went with me everywhere, along that a pen that worked. My book was private. It was not a journal, not a diary but a place for my stray ideas and insight. I wrote out what was nagging at me too. I didn’t need spell check. I didn’t even expect sense in my jottings. I didn’t even reread them.
I did title the books, pasting a label on them dated from the first entry to the last, because I wanted some sort of order. And I hoped that some day the clarity I obtained at the time in writing the notes would be even greater insight if I ever looked at them again.They delivered. When it was time to “really” write, there was this suitcase full of feelings. So my crutch living the caregiving journey became my inspiration as I wrote about it.
What were the highpoints of your writer’s journey?
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!