After five years of working in home care, I’ve heard my share of family caregiving stories. The good, the bad, the sad, the very ugly. Caring for a family member can simultaneously bring the very best and very worst out of people. Family bonds can grow stronger or they can completely fall apart. Jerry Bridge, the author of “Who Cares? The Give and Take of Family Caregiving: Matters of Heart, Humor, and Reconciliation“, steps into the role four times providing care for his sister, mother, brother, and father.
It’s nothing short of remarkable, given that just one of these care scenarios can be overwhelming even to the most dedicated of carers. Some people take to the role phenomenally. Sometimes, they’re only able to help on a part-time basis, otherwise it’s too much for them. Others don’t want any part at all in caring for a loved one, no matter how close they are to them.
Who Cares? Family Caregiving: A Family Portrait
Jerry begins the book describing his family and life growing up in northwest Baltimore in the ’60s/’70s. It’s very typical of the average American family. Multiple kids (Jerry being the youngest of three), soundly middle class with all the typical ups/downs and anxieties of growing up.
Sometimes, the family was at odds with one another and they constantly argued. But, you get the sense that despite the arguments that they all truly loved each other.
Stepping Up as a Family Caregiver
The rest of the book is about Jerry’s experience as a family caregiver, with his older sister, Robbie (Robin) being the first to receive his care.
There’s a real atmosphere of “What if” to Bridge’s chapter on his sister and her untimely passing. She describes herself as “A normal human being with many goals in life” in her high school yearbook. Yet, she struggles to live this “normal” life due to her bipolar disorder that disrupts her relationships and plans.
Then, she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Jerry helps her move from her home in Johnson City, TN back to Baltimore to be closer to their parents. Meanwhile, he is married, raising a son, and managing his business in San Diego. Nearly 3,000 miles away.
Which is pretty amazing considering that his experience only gets more complex for the rest of the book. Robbie tragically passes away in hospice care.
Summary of Jerry’s Family Caregiving Experiences
I didn’t want to write too in-depth on each care situation Jerry goes through as I actually want you to read the book! (and I’m sure Jerry would agree with me)
After the passing of his sister, Jerry manages to:
- Move his parents to San Diego, including selling/buying houses, packing important belongings, organizing travel
- Help his father deal with depression and convince him to start ECT (Electro Convulsive Therapy), which ultimately helps him
- Move his brother to San Diego
- Take his brother to psychiatry, dental, and oncology services (to deal with Myelofibrosis, a rare blood cancer)
- Organize a wedding anniversary party for his parents with guests from all over the country
- Organize care for his mother once she is diagnosed with lung cancer
- Set up hospice care for his mother and eventually brother years later
- Move his father to an assisted living facility and brother to Section 8 apartment across the street
- Most importantly, be there for his ailing family members as they pass away
This list doesn’t include a lot of the little things he does as well, such as grocery shopping, hospital visits, and everything else to ensure his family’s comfort. All the while running a business and having his own family.
Why You Should Read “Who Cares” on Family Caregiving
Family caregivers would benefit greatly from reading about Jerry’s experience in caring for his family.
He manages the (understandable) depression that comes with losing multiple loved ones while maintaining an optimistic outlook on life and appreciating the time he had with his family.
I particularly like how he writes letters to his family members once they are no longer able to communicate to express how much he cares. Additionally, he keeps a journal to track how is feeling and it provides an outlet for the more difficult times. He doesn’t shy away from recognizing how tough the experiences are on him. But, he also doesn’t let it keep him down.
This entry in particular is my personal favorite:
What do I have to offer? What value can I bring; enthusiasm, spirit of community, connection, curiosity into what’s possible, adventure? Yes, okay. Is it okay to bring my baggage? You mean your humanness? All of it, yes! Not only is it okay, it’s required. Bring it: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s all necessary. Deny none of it. Shine the light, come out of the shadows. Bring it! Remember, Jerry, this is the year you are working on enthusiasm and encouragement in the face of depression and whatever challenges you meet!
Another reason family caregivers would benefit from reading this book is that they can see the amazing support Jerry received while managing care. Doctors, nurses, caregivers, administrative, and clerical staff all contributed in helping provide the best possible outcomes. Sometimes, the staff didn’t fit well and Jerry made changes. But, eventually they were able to make things work.
In a way, Jerry had constructed his own Circle of Support. He was never truly alone when caregiving!
Lastly, family caregivers can take heart that they are more than up to the task despite possible doubt in their mind:
What if I am whole and complete, ready to lead and inspire, exactly as I am? …if everything I’m dealing with is exactly necessary for me to experience right now? What if I am supposed to be feeling afraid, depressed, anxious, and uncertain?
For more information on the author, visit Jerry Bridge’s web site.