Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Responsible One

There’s one in almost every family: the child who ends up taking care of the aging parents. It’s not that the other siblings are irresponsible – far from it. It’s just that one kid just seems to take on the job by request, choice, or default.

In our family, I was The Responsible One, beginning when my parents talked about downsizing and moving into a retirement community. They were determined never to be a burden to their kids, so no one had to push them into making the move. My mom regularly told me about places they'd visited, and whether they'd made a deposit in order to get on the waiting list. Then they had a wake-up call in early 2001, when my dad lost his left leg below the knee because of an aneurism. Their three-level townhouse was no longer an ideal situation.

One fateful day, my parents invited me to join them for lunch in a New York-style deli near their home. As I devoured my Reuben and fries, they asked me whether I would be their executor. I still have the grease-stained paper placemat with my notes scrawled on it, detailing where I could find their will. (Foyer closet, locked black briefcase under hats & scarves, combination: 0000.) We survived lunch, so the need for me to be executor would be deferred indefinitely.

Truth is, I was flattered to have been asked and accepted on the spot. I wondered what made them choose me over my siblings – both several years older and one a lawyer, to boot. I figured the folks must think I would be good at handling funeral and executor issues. (I've always liked funereal stuff. Go figure.) Maybe it was my MBA, or the fact that I didn't have kids. Or maybe it was just that I was the youngest kid and had a fighting chance of outliving them.

At the time, I assumed this executor thing was just in case something unexpected should occur and the paper­work had to be dealt with afterward. I had no clue that this honor would entail years of work and worry beyond my wildest nightmares. Over time, my responsibilities expanded relentlessly, up to the very end. Most of them had nothing to do with the job of executor, and everything to do with being The Responsible One. 

Through it all, my brother and sister were incredibly supportive and involved, so I was by no means alone with this responsibility. I’ve heard horror stories from people whose siblings disappeared when the going got tough, although they showed up promptly when the estate was being distributed. I was also very fortunate to have a husband who never questioned all the time, emotional exertion, and other resources that we invested in my mother’s last years.

Luckily, we had email to keep us all in touch, and our family had always used humor as a means of coping with reality. If you can find an excuse to laugh, you can survive anything, including death. (Well, maybe not your own.) 

This journey was chockfull of eye-opening experiences – things I wish someone had told me about before they happened. The purpose of this book is to share these experiences with others who are on a similar path, or may soon be, or are hoping never to be. From the realities of my mother’s sudden widowhood to the bittersweet days of hospice care, you’ll find true stories and lessons learned from the rocky road of aging and eldercare.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Memoir with a Purpose

Nineteen million Americans are caring for someone over the age of 75, and author M. Elizabeth Sweeney was one of them -- yet she couldn't find a book about the eldercare issues she encountered with her mother. So she decided to write it.

'Losing Marmee' is a memoir with a purpose: to give fellow caregivers a heads-up about the surprises that may be coming their way," states Sweeney. "No one ever told me that a person could 'graduate' from hospice, or that I might visit my mother one day and find her unable to speak."

Make no mistake, this is not another eldercare manual. Rather, it is a heads-up for people who are caring for someone (or expecting to) and who don't realize the myriad issues that can impact that person's quality of life -- or their own.

"Over the years, I learned to dread the early-morning phone calls that would send my blood pressure skyrocketing," Sweeney continues. "In later years, the events came more frequently and the time required to juggle them -- even though my mom was in a great assisted living facility with 24/7 caregivers -- took a huge toll on my own life."

Readers will find dozens of valuable "lessons learned" in 'Losing Marmee', woven throughout the true stories that pay tribute to her mother. A Marine in World War II, Marmee is every bit as indomitable and self-determined as her namesake in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'. Her bravery and sense of humor permeate the essays that make up this substantial volume.

The book begins with the shocking loss of Sweeney's father, and follows the ensuing several years of her mother's decline. Peppered with flashbacks to happier times, the pieces vary in length and tone, and are written in the relaxed, conversational style of a storyteller.

'Losing Marmee' is also a love story -- one that millions of boomer daughters will recognize. As she devotedly hauls dry cleaning, moist wipes, and "Exactly the Right Kleenex" to her mother's assisted living facility, Sweeney reveals a daughter's determination that her mother's last days will be as clean, safe, and happy as humanly possible.

The best books are those that both entertain and teach, and 'Losing Marmee' delivers that rare blend. In the words of an Amazon reviewer, "I can almost feel this story as it unfolds. It convinces me that I know very little about what is ahead for me (and my siblings) when my parents reach the age where they need eldercare."

M. Elizabeth Sweeney is available for media interviews and can be reached by email at losingmarmee@gmail.com. Review copies of ‘Losing Marmee’ are available to media upon request, and the book is also circulated by Fairfax County (VA) and Montgomery County (MD) Public Libraries. The paperback and Kindle ebook editions of 'Losing Marmee' are available at Amazon.com
. All proceeds from sales of ‘Losing Marmee’ are donated to appropriate nonprofit organizations.