On the first day of the new millennium, Janet Dunnett and her sister Judy decided on how they would share the responsibilities of caring for their elderly parents. It wouldn’t be easy with Janet living in Qualicum Beach while Judy remained with their parents in Calgary, but they were determined to make it work.
“You’re not off the hook if you say, ‘I don’t live close to mom and dad,’” Janet said.
She said she helped by researching her parents’ conditions – her father was living with dementia while her mother faced physical ailments – so her sister would be more informed during doctor’s visits and she familiarized herself with the healthcare system. The two also supported on another.
“Every day I was with Judy on the phone, just going through everything. The thing that a caregiver really has to have is somebody who isn’t going to be judgmental … you have to have someone that you can trust is gonna be there through the tough stuff,” Janet said.
The sisters continued to care for their parents for the next decade. Early on Janet would relieve Judy by hosting their parents on the Island, but later on, when travel became difficult, Janet started spending more time in Calgary. Their mother and father passed away in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
With her time as a caregiver over, Janet started wondering if anything could have gone better and the role she was playing in relation to the healthcare system. She decided to record those thoughts in a memoir.
“So this itch to write and this mind that was ruminating about all these things got together at a point and I wrote the book and I wanted to do that to sort of put an end to the way this set of memories was nagging at me,” she said.
The book, The Dwindling, was published last April and on Friday, Jan. 26 she will hold a reading and a discussion on caregiver support groups at the Nanaimo Seniors Connect Centre.
Dunnett said there’s a self-imposed stigma when it comes to being a caregiver because of the shame of being labelled a complainer for admitting the challenges of caregiving. She said it feels like “all anybody wants to talk about is, ‘How’s your dad? No one ever says, ‘And how are you?’”
“The goal [of the talk] is to get the caregiver out of this awful sense of being isolated, which is one of the real paths to burnout when you feel you’re the only one in the world doing this and there’s no one you can turn to to get an answer and you just don’t know what the next day is going to bring and you have no idea when its going to be over and all you know is your own personal life is in tatters,” she said.
Dunnett added that she’s hoping that the event helps encourage other caregivers to share their experiences and speak up about their situation.
“Everybody’s going to have a different thing that they could do with their story,” she said.
“But just having said it out loud to somebody is really, really freeing.”
WHAT’S ON … Janet Dunnett will be reading from her book, The Dwindling, at the Nanaimo Seniors Connect Centre on Friday, Jan. 26 at 2:30 p.m. Call 250-591-2924 to register. Space is limited.