Carol Bradley Bursack aptly describes her book Minding Our Elders as a “portable support group”. It’s a series of stories told, not about the elders of the title, but about their minders — by the caregivers who took (or who are taking) care of them.
The tone of the book is informal and conversational. Each of the twenty-six stories is essentially a stream-of-consciousness tale, a slice of the life of the teller. The stories are full of human resentments, love, confusion, anger, contradictions and emotional pain.
The inherent questions of care-giving reappear again and again: the uncertainty, the inability to know if decisions are right (or right enough); if wishes are being met; if frail elders are being cared for as they should be.
This isn’t a book that can (or tries to) answer unanswerable questions. There’s a sadness and a sense of doubt underlying most, if not all, of the stories. Nearly everyone seems to wonder “Am I doing this right?” “Is this how it’s supposed to be?” Care-giving, it seems, does not inspire self-confidence; perhaps it does quite the opposite.
People who have never cared for others in these ways would probably find Minding Our Elders a little baffling: This isn’t a ‘how-to’ handbook, or any kind of a guide through the perils of care-giving.
It’s not a book of saints, either. There are enough troubled relationships here to keep a New York psychiatrist busy for years. Therein, it seems to me, lies the book’s strength: these stories are ordinary and real, and, as such, oddly reassuring.
This 135 page work lives up to its billing as a “portable support group” — a reminder that care-givers are not alone. Others have gone before, and will come after, each struggling in his or her imperfect way to meet impossible needs; each searching for answers to questions that cannot be resolved. Minding Our Elders is a reminder that the impossibilities of care-giving, if inescapable, are perfectly normal.
Carrol Bradley Bursack is also the author of an informative blog by the same name, covering a wide range of topics related to aging and eldercare. (There’s also a link to Minding Our Elders under “Blogs-Related” to the right of this post.)