Staying Afloat–New Book Review

I just finished reading a new book by Sheryl Karas, MA entitled The Spiritual Journey of Family Caregiving. It is a compendium of newsletters she wrote from 2000 to 2005 while serving as a “family caregiving consultant” for a non-profit organization in Santa Cruz, California. It proves to be an accessible, practical, and insightful book about the reality and opportunity of caring for aging parents.

First and foremost the book reminds us that there is spiritual work afoot in the drama of aging parents no matter how grim or demanding the circumstances. Karas offers a series of vignettes comprised of stories, insights, and advice that help us understand how this spiritual “opportunity” emerges amid the demands of caregiving in a world of deteriorating physical and mental health. It is an opportunity that may ultimately save our life. How?

The drama of aging parents is a powerful riptide that can pull us under in seconds. For their sake and ours, we need to find ways to stay afloat. Reframing the caregiving journey in spiritual terms helps us do that. It elevates our role to a higher calling, transforms the meaning of suffering, and connects us to a power outside of ourselves. It allows us to become more comfortable with our limitations and more open to solutions that we neither orchestrate nor control. Most importantly, it helps to ask more useful questions.

A spiritual perspective of caregiving in most cases assumes that help is necessary, available for the asking, and on its way. For many adult children who feel obligated to do it all alone as a statement of their love and dedication, this is an important and potentially life saving breakthrough. As Karas point out, the most successful caregivers ask for help over and over again. This leads them to create customized support networks made up of other caregivers, family members, social services, fee-based services, online communities, and spiritual resources. Armed with help-seeking questions (what’s the big picture? what are the facts? what works? what’s possible?), they build a “flotation network” for themselves and their aging parents. As important, this spiritually-based survival network begins to free them up to discover new layers of meaning about the caregiving journey, lessons and insights they never dreamed existed.