How would you cope with the unexpected?
Today I'm delighted to welcome Karen Warner Scheuler to my blog, author of The Sudden Caregiver, A practical and proven guide, a roadmap, and a source of comfort for anyone who is caring for a loved one, and especially for those for whom the role was unexpected. You can read an excerpt below, then read on to learn more about the author and where to find the book.
Introducing the Sudden Caregiver
“There are only four kinds of people in the world – those who
have been caregivers, those who are
caregivers, those who will be caregivers,
and those who will need caregivers.” — Former US First Lady, Rosalynn Carter, from Written Testimony Before the Senate Special Committee on Aging1
This is the moment. I wake up in the middle of the night to the ringing of my mobile in the dark. The standard-issue hotel bedside clock reads 2:04 a.m. I answer the phone with a startled, heart racing, “Sweetie!” In the two decades we’ve been together, Joel has never called me in the middle of the night when either of us is on the road. He says, “I’m still at the hospital. They just came in and told me. I have lung cancer. But it’s in my spine.” I sit up in bed trying to get my bearings. I have fallen asleep fully clothed, it seems, propped against the headboard, waiting to hear from Joel who was in the ER when we last spoke. I was certain that he would have made it home by now, safely diagnosed with a curative regimen in hand.
My laptop, open beside me on the bed, holds an email to my clients telling them I may have to postpone the meetings we have scheduled for later in the week, something I have never had to do in all the years of running my own firm. I have composed the note with much hesitation while waiting for Joel to call. I’d fallen asleep before hitting send.
Over the phone, Joel makes a joke or two about lung cancer, complete with pop-culture references to the TV show Breaking Bad, which we’ve just binge-watched on Netflix. The running theme of that show is that a mild-mannered chemistry teacher, Walter White, is told he has terminal lung cancer. In the aftermath of this diagnosis, Walter White stumbles upon formulating and selling methamphetamine to ensure his family’s financial future. We both laugh.
Today, with the arc of his diagnosis to death completed, I recall that I took in and focused on his joking banter more than the part about lung cancer. It seemed so unlikely a diagnosis for my non-smoking, religiously exercising, insistently supplement-taking husband. I was almost dismissive of it. “That’s not possible,” I remember saying. I know I sounded sure. I was sure. This was some kind of false alarm, and I was so certain of it that I persisted in wondering about whether I really had to cancel my upcoming meetings. Lung cancer sounded serious but was it an immediate kind of serious? What about the twenty-six people who’d traveled from all over the country to assemble in a workshop I had committed to running that week?
The “C” Card
Murmuring with Joel about it deep into that night, I now realize I was plucking “lung cancer” from the air and turning it into an action item, mentally rank ordering it on my list of priorities in order to minimize it. Did it go at the top: drop all and grab a plane? Or in the middle: finish what you came for then hightail it home? Or perhaps, after all, this belonged at the bottom: we’ve all had bad news, even scary medical news. But it’s never really bad.
I wandered in and out of sleeplessness weighing my options and then took the first flight home to Boston. I left messages for colleagues during the cab ride and from my seat on the plane, begging someone to cover the meeting that I had to cancel. I reached one colleague at that early hour. I heard myself pleading with her when she said she did have that day free but would rather not book it.
“But Joel has cancer,” I whispered to her, my face pressed against the plane’s window so that the stranger who was my seatmate would not hear my desperate whine. That was, officially, the first time I told anyone that Joel had cancer. It felt false, a manipulation, “playing the ‘C’ card,” as they say. Yet in the next moment the power of its reality overcame me. To my astonishment, I began to cry. Whatever my colleague made of all this, in any case, she didn’t find a way to say yes. This is the moment, the first of many moments, when I knew that life wasn’t going to yield to my well-crafted plans. Welcome to the other side of the looking glass, the province of the sudden caregiver.
On the day before I became a sudden caregiver, I was, first, a mom planning her only daughter’s wedding. I was a consultant designing a leadership program. I was a coach listening for what her client wasn’t saying. And I was a runner, a friend, a business owner, and a consumer of too much Starbucks coffee. I was also a wife checking in with her husband from some six hundred miles away. His ongoing complaints of back pain were steeped now in frustration, which I shared. It sounded to me like the pain was shifting, radiating, deepening. So I was also, that day, a stern lecturer on the virtues of taking care of oneself, demanding he call our friend, Glenn, to take him to the emergency room so they could fix whatever was wrong once and for all, if it couldn’t wait till I got home.
I inhabited all my usual roles that day. Caregiver was not among them. Then, suddenly, it was.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
In addition to the book and worksheet appendix, readers can download a free Sudden Caregiver’s Playbook, with helpful worksheets and activities to guide the caregiver through each step of the journey.
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR THE SUDDEN CAREGIVER
“Beautifully written and empirically sound. I can see that it will help many caregivers of all types. I look forward to sharing with my caregiver networks.”—Dr. Judith Moskowitz, PhD, MPH, Professor, Medical Social Sciences, Northwestern University - Feinberg School of Medicine, and President of the International Positive Psychology Association
“Warner Schueler’s powerful and poignant writing provides caregivers with a pragmatic plan for approaching caregiving, and even more importantly, a strong thread of hope and meaning ‘in the face of a hopeless situation’. Her writing offers both resources and inspiration; a personal story in the midst of a ubiquitous experience so many endure in isolation and silence. A must-read for anyone traveling the path of a caregiver.”—Pam McLean, Ph.D., CEO, Hudson Institute of Coaching
“As a mental health clinician with years working on the front lines of crises of all kinds and personally being the caregiver and receiver, this book is a must-have for every bookshelf. We’ll all be touched by caregiving and receiving at some point. I’m thankful for the compass.” —Andrea Kane Frank, MS, LCPC, Chesapeake Counseling and Consulting and Founder, raising human•kind
“In a world where a serious illness can change a life in an instant, so many find themselves thrust—unprepared, overwhelmed, and terrified—into the role of caregiver. In this poignant and beautifully written book—both how-to guide and lyrical memoir—Karen Warner Schueler offers a practical and psychological guide for those facing what can be the toughest crisis of their lives. ‘The only way out is through,’ she writes. And having this exceptional book will be an invaluable asset in that difficult journey.”—Glenn Rifkin, New York Times contributing writer and author of Future Forward
“I have been centrally and peripherally involved in 5 sudden-care experiences over the last 5 years. Along the way, I was fortunate to have an early draft of this book. When we were struggling with medical complexity, it gave us practical guidance. When we were discouraged, it reminded us of our strengths. When we were facing the end, it helped us turn ‘no hope’ into hope for a peaceful end. Having sent several people to the author for early drafts, I can say with complete confidence that practically everybody will need this book someday.”—Kathryn Britton, Principal and Writing Coach, Theano Coaching, LLC, co-editor of Character Strengths Matter
“The Sudden Caregiver shines a light on the paradox of caregiving— that caregiving offers moments of both grit and grace. This book will change the way caregivers give care and it might just change the caregivers’ story for millions around the globe. If you are a caregiver, you need this book. And so does the world.”—David J. Pollay, Executive Coach, Keynote Speaker, and Bestselling Author of The Law of the Garbage Truck
WHERE TO FIND THE SUDDEN CAREGIVER