The New York Times called it “laugh-out loud,” but Bettyville, a bestselling memoir, is about a subject many might not view as humorous: a Boomer-generation man returning from New York City to his roots in Missouri to care for his aging mother.
In an interview with CBS News, author George Hodgman, a nationally known book and magazine editor, expressed surprise that his memoir, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, has given him a reputation as “the Mick Jagger of Elder Care.” He called himself, “the care inflictor,” “an unlikely guardian” and “someone who until recently thought the Medicare doughnut was a breakfast special for seniors.” Yet ,Hodgman persevered in his journey of caring for his mother as she dealt with dementia, and his experience inspires some valuable lessons about caregiving.
10 Caregiving Lessons from Bettyville
1. Laughter really is the best medicine. Hodgman’s book is filled with witty observations, such as, ”When dealing with elderly women, a trip to the hairdresser and two Bloody Marys goes further than any prescription drug.”
2. Love can be expressed in small ways. His mother liked it when he’d comb her hair, rub moisturizer on her dry skin, or help her remember names of her favorite hymns.
3. Everyone needs a break now and then. At one point, Hodgman’s mother said they both could use a haircut. So off she and her son went to St. Louis to a nice beauty salon.
4. Pet therapy really works – for both loved one and caregiver. When his mother was really ill, she would forget her symptoms as she became engrossed in her dog’s activities. Hodgman was also comforted by the sound of the dog’s paws clicking on the floor or the feel of his warm fur.
5. Familiar foods can provide comfort. Betty loved it when her son made foods from her past, such as burnt sugar cake.
6. In care, one size does not fit all. An assisted living facility that offered fancy workout rooms and fascinating lectures didn’t appeal to Hodgman’s mother. “Betty eyes an exercise bike as if it were a guillotine,” he wrote.
7. Some things can be let go. He had to give up on trying to get his mother to wear shoes other than her comfortable old sandals.
8. Just being there is important. “On bad days, when things are tough, she wants me always in sight,” he wrote.
9. The challenges of caregiving are major – but so are the rewards. “On Betty’s journey I have learned something I had not known. I am very strong, strong enough to stay, strong enough to go when the time comes,” wrote Hodgman. “I am staying not to cling on, but because sometime, at least once, everyone should see someone through. All the way home.”
10. Caregivers need support. He was touched by gestures like fresh flowers left in his mailbox and hugs from members of his mother’s church.
As marketers to a generation of Boomer caregivers, all of these lessons are important, especially #10. Caregivers are under incredible stress, and most don’t get the support they need. In fact, according to a study by Caring.com, 69% of respondents reported that caring for a loved one is their number one source of stress.
From respite care to shopping and cleaning services, there are many ways to support stressed-out caregivers. But it’s hard to understand their needs unless you’ve actually been in their shoes. Books like Bettyville should be required reading for their valuable real-world insights that can inspire solutions that work. Learn more about Bettyville at www.hodgman.com.