Photo by Jessica Knowlden
At the Core of Every Caregiving Story is a Family
At the core of every caregiving story is a family. As a person evolves into needing care and assistance, huge shifts take place in that family. Roles and responsibilities change. Some older adults and their families adjust to the unavoidable challenges with relative ease. For others, it can be a battle.
The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie (link below) is a memoir about a troubled family that does not age well. The author’s father lived a life of adventure and had a successful and highly lucrative career in the oil business. Like many men of his generation, he spent minimal time with his young children. Laveau-Harvie’s mother is the central, controlling character of this novel-like narrative. She is narcissistic, histrionic, highly intelligent, creative, deceitful and conniving. The mother has dealt out emotional abuse to anyone in her path over decades. Few are spared her angry and vindictive tirades. Laveau-Harvie is a gifted writer and describes her family with a poetic style that is balanced with dark humor. Her recounting of her mother’s escapades makes for riveting reading.
A Mother Divides her Family
The family has a lot of money. After the children are grown, the mother convinces her husband that their daughters are selfish and greedy. They disinherit their children and arrange to have non-family member assigned as legal representatives. (The family is Canadian, so essentially the US equivalent of power of attorney and trustee.)
As their parents decline both physically and cognitively, the daughters are legally free to step aside. After all, they have been emotionally abused and legally rejected. But, instead, they step in. Readers who have dealt with resistant aging parents will empathize. They will relate to the uphill climb of convincing elders who need care that they need personal assistance. The parents cover all the worst case scenarios for aging. There is physical neglect and possible intent to harm (though from my view, this accusation in the book is pretty flimsy). The home is in an extreme climate that is literally out in the middle of nowhere. The frail parents are truly isolated, physically and socially. The mother’s compulsive spending threatens every financial asset. Her impaired judgement makes her a magnet for scammers and thieves literally break into the house.
Not the Best Hired Caregiver Experience
The daughters arrange for caregivers to come to care for their parents. Their relief doesn’t last long. In time, they find out that the people they have hired are also stealing from the parents. The loss of trust that they feel is huge.
I personally relate to this story, as I cover in our book Aging with Care: Hiring and Managing Caregivers at Home. I wish that the sisters had had a chance to read that first! It saddens me that Laveau-Harvie is left with such a bitter view of professional caregivers. After her experience, she conveys that there are no good caregivers. My perspective is strongly opposite. Yes, there are some very terrible and treacherous caregivers. But the vast majority of caregivers are good people who care for the frailest among us.
Family trauma has toxic consequences if unheeded. The mother is angry and destructive, even in old age. The husband and children have endured so much and we sympathize. However, it is also tragic that no one seems to address this person’s mental illness until late in her life. In this account, some professionals acknowledge the mother’s high drama, high maintenance personality. But the author only mentions that doctors attend to her mother’s dementia. It’s clear that the author views her mother as a cruel person. Her behaviors support this conclusion. The same behavior points to a multitude of mental health issues. What if she had been treated decades earlier for her many symptoms? How different would this family history be?
This is a surprisingly readable story of a harrowing family dynamic. Much pain is inflicted. Even so, it cannot stop these sisters from caring for difficult parents at the end of life.
Add This One to Your Caregiving Bookshelf
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