Since publishing her groundbreaking book Passages in 1976, Gail Sheehy has trained her keen eye upon diverse facets of modern American culture and life: everything from war and politics to prostitution and menopause. Now she has taken on caregiving—an exploding social phenomenon that currently affects the lives of nearly 50 million American adults.
The call came one day when Sheehy was sitting in a beauty salon. It was about her husband, Clay. It was about cancer. In the ensuing weeks, her life changed radically: “I had a new role. Family caregiver.” Caring for an elder, once-independent adult—whether a parent, life partner, relative or friend—can be a heartbreaking and backbreaking full-time job, and most often one without pay. Sheehy was her husband’s primary caregiver for the last 17 years of his life, a process she believes is a journey that “opens up possibilities for true intimacy and reconnection at the deepest level.”
As we have come to expect from Sheehy, Passages in Caregiving is well and thoroughly researched, and the straight-talking narrative is a blend of trenchant yet sensitive prose, fact, story and strategy. Sheehy writes from her own “raw experience” of caregiving, weaving her personal story throughout, along with the stories of other families. She likens the caregiving journey to navigating the twists in a labyrinth, a device that, unlike the confounding riddle of a maze, “orders chaos.” She names eight major turnings around the labyrinth, from “shock and mobilization” through to “the long goodbye,” illustrates them with moving and apt personal stories, then offers practical resources and empowering strategies for coping with their challenges. There is, Sheehy says, “life after caregiving,” and Passages in Caregiving is a crucial roadmap to that new life.