Mother Lode and Caregiving

Today I want to tell you about a great book I think you should read. Yes you. Everyone. It’s called Mother Lode: Confessions of a Reluctant Caregiver, by Gretchen Staebler. Here’s why.

After my father-in-law died in 2011, Alan and his brothers (and us wives) grew deeper into elder care with Marilyn, my mother-in-law. It was a long journey that felt like driving in the dark; we could see only the smallest bit of road in front of us. We had no idea how her care needs would change, unsure when the next decision would need to be made, or where it would lead. Every step was challenging for everyone.

As her health inevitably failed and her home grew increasingly cluttered, we tried to convince her to move to assisted living. There were false starts, steps backward, heartache and exhaustion as we tried to keep her safe, and as happy and healthy as possible, while still respecting her wishes and boundaries. Nope. It wasn’t easy.

Mutual admiration society
Great-grandkids offered much joy

Fortunately for all of us, when Alan and I moved to Portland, she found the strength to come along, and was both proactive and enthusiastic about being near her beloved grandkids and great-grandkids. I believe her words were, “You can run but you can’t hide,” though that might be an apocryphal story now often told. We found a great assisted living facility where she could live on her own and get more help as needed. Of course, it didn’t end there, happily ever after.

Though Marilyn lived independently, Alan grew increasingly involved in her day to day care as she aged and her health diminished, even with a wonderful nursing staff at her facility. His visits and phone calls grew more and more frequent, and by the last months it all seemed impossibly difficult, complicated, and heartbreaking.

So when I read Mother Lode, I was immediately brought back to those days, full of admiration for the author. Gretchen Staebler moved back to her childhood home to be her 96 year old mother’s caretaker. She promised a year, and it turned into six!

The book tells the bitter and bold truth about how the two women try to maintain their independence even as their lives grow increasingly intertwined. Their mother-daughter relationship is often fraught with struggle, and Staebler doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities.

Written in real time along her journey, she weaves in family stories, delves into her own thoughts about aging, about creating a new life for herself in her 60s, and portrays the exhausting work of healing her relationship with her aging mother. As I read, I was relieved that our burden of care never came to this level, but at the same time a bit wistful that I didn’t have another chance at closeness with my own mother.

Watch this trailer for a charming preview!

It’s quite the journey; a beautiful, heartbreaking, and empowering book. It’s gripping, emotional, smart, and funny. I was moved to think of how many of us already have, or someday will go through this experience of caring for a parent in their last stages of life. As we do, we must also come to terms with our own aging, with who they are as our parent, and who we are as their child. Staebler walks us through it all with honesty and tenderness.

Anyone who is a caregiver, or has been, or will be, will enjoy this book. Or hell, anyone who is going to have to be taken care of some day. Or has a parent. Or is a parent. While the details will vary, it’s all of our story.

I was able to read an advance copy because Gretchen became a friend during the pandemic when we each blogged our overlapping stories about caring for grandchildren during the online-schooling days. I’ve always found her writing to be engaging and stunningly truthful. Little did I know that an online blogger friend could become a real friend. And one that would actually write a great book!

The Mother Lode website is a resource for anyone touched by caregiving.

You have just a few days to Pre-order the book, (before Oct. 18) to win all kinds of goodies. Or ask at your local bookshop. I’ve also requested it at my local library and you can too – just go to their website and find out how. (Or if you read this after publication date, just go out and buy it!)

And here’s a link to my mother-in-laws story and memorial.

13 thoughts on “Mother Lode and Caregiving

  1. Thank you so much for your kindness, Nancy. What a lucky pandemic that led to our friendship! It’s seems an eternity ago that we were entertaining grandchildren. I am glad this led me to your Marilyn story too! And another connection: you and Gymboree, and I sold Discovery Toys! xoxo Gretchen

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love how you’ve made this personal. Such a way with words you have. I can find myself in your story, too. Caregiving is such a Universal thing. Maybe the true great equalizer. Thanks for sharing. So much good here; story, books and friends šŸ’œ

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  3. The great equalizer indeed. I think of Alan’s hospice work and the wonderful caregivers he has met who give so unselfishly to his clients – both family members and the paid caregivers. Everyone is on the same team. Thanks for being here. I wanted to just steal your words about Gretchen’s book but then I found I had my own story to tell.

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  4. I’m reading this the morning after going with my 92-year-old mother to the emergency room for her first hospitalization since my younger brother’s birth. Not fun for either of us, but Mom is a trooper (She didn’t want to go). We are taking the opposite route from you and Alan: our goal is for Mom to remain in her home until her death with as little outside interference as possible.

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    • Wow, your mother is made of stern stuff! Trooper indeed. I hope that it works out that she can die at home. I hope it works out for me too. Is it what we all wish? While Alan’s dad died at home, our goals had to change as disabilities took the upper hand and life dealt unforeseen changes with his mom. Moving was a good change for her and she was glad about it when it came. You may find supportive words in Gretchen’s book, as she cared for her mother at home for many years. Thanks for being here Sharyn.

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      • I would say that Mom’s goal is different: to live at home until she dies. And what kind of disabled person would I be if I didn’t know how to accommodate for disabilities. That said, her sudden hospital admission was alarming, especially when the doctor extended overnight observation to two to three days.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your story, Sharyn. It was also our goal for my mother to remain at home. We did as long as possible. “At what expense?” and “Where is home?” became valid questions. She wasn’t in a hospital, I am glad for that. Sending you and your family all the best.

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      • Thank you, Gretchen. My mother’s condition took a sudden dive: normally she is hale and hearty, independent and active with a fully functioning brain. We are quite clear on where home is — where her cat and her trees, her room, her neighbors and all her possessions are.

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