I wrote Passages in Caregiving because I went through the chaos of caregiving -off and on for seventeen years taking care of my husband, Clay Felker, who had cancer four different times. I didn't know anything; I was blind, I wasn't trained for it, I wasn't expecting it. I didn't know how to pay for it, and I figured not many other people do either and there are fifty-million adults taking care of other adults that used to be independent.
While I told my story throughout the book in kind of a novelistic form, and the stories of lots of other people in different situations, taking care of moms and dads who is wanting to take care of mom who is taking care of dad but is killing mom. Then I wanted to put in real concrete "what do you do" at each phase of this long journey because it may go on for years or even decades. The writing of this book was cathartic in that I relived and understood the path that I had been on for seventeen years and I appreciated so much more. The wonderful long reprieves we had during and between his illnesses.
We had been victorious over this monster called cancer, so we really lived in those five- six year reprieves and I wanted to tell other people that you can do that. Today, diseases that were always considered to be death sentences are very often recurring, remitting, they drop off, they may never come back; so, live every moment that you have. A couple of nights before my husband died, he knew he only had about a week left and I asked him if he wanted to do something wonderful. He played jazz as a kid, a jazz drum, and I went to the computer and I found out that our favorite club, Dizzy's Coca-Cola Club in Lincoln Center, had a show that night. It was just a jazz quintet, and I asked Clay "would you like to go?" "Yes."
He pulled all the energy he had left and went to his wardrobe and pulled out a nice jacket, a shirt, and a cap to hide his bald hair and he let me put tinted sunscreen on his face to give him some color; he look pretty good, he looked normal. We went out and got to the concert on time. The man who was playing was his age and was playing his own composition called "Life Is What you Make It," so Clay was just filled with the music and beating on the table drumming to the music. We were there for two hours; it was the best two hours of our lives together.
"Passages" was really about a new concept. The idea that, as adults, we continue to go through stages and have to master tasks and go through periods of disequilibrium where it's not about the choices we made that were wrong, but we're moving into another phase of life. We already wrapped up some tasks and we want to be more. Basically, we always want to be more, and later we want to give back more. It's still relevant today and people tell me they constantly go back to it to see: "What did I do at thirty - at cash thirty? Where did I make my midlife passage? Where did I go off track?". The most important thing is when I wrote that book I was in my thirties and so I stopped parsing the stages of adult development at fifty because I thought what happens after fifty that could be interesting. In fact, I now know we go through more passages after fifty than we do in our first adulthood.
Related poll: Do You Have a Bucket List?This is an edited transcript from an exclusive interview with Gail Sheehy. Click here to watch the interview on genConnect.com.
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As the bestselling author of 15 books, including Passages, Gail Sheehy has rocked the culture and changed the way millions of women and men around the world look at the stages of their lives. In 2010 she takes on the most challenging and personal issue: Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos into Confidence.