The Dwindling: A Daughter’s Caregiving Journey to the Edge of Life by Janet Dunnett

The Dwindling (2017, Journeys Press) is a unique book in the Health/Memoir genre for it is written by one-half of a “Twin Team” of identical twin sisters that endeavoured to care for their aged parents, the father with dementia, the mother with multiple health problems, pain being the primary one that caused her the most discomfort, and down the road, caused her to be bed-ridden.

 “Keep on loving your mother and being her advocate. Those are your daughter jobs.”

Mom glared at me with piercing eyes. “Dwindle? What an unkind word for people growing old!” Janet tells her: “I don’t know, I read it somewhere, and it fits the reality, don’t you think?” I explained that dwindling was used in books I read as the description of advancing frailty and unravelling of whatever quality of life was experienced in the early senior years. It was the phase of life when health started to fade, but death was still far off. Slow death, perhaps, I mused.

The book is an honest, humorous, and at times, exhausting (one can only imagine what each daughter went through) account of their parent’s dwindling health over years and their attempts to struggle not only with the parent themselves, but with each other, other siblings and “Goliath”, the moniker given to the provincial health systems that they, as “Davids” fought against at every turn.

The Twin Team

The author, Janet was “Daughter at a Distance” as she lives on B.C.’s coast, while Judi, “Daughter on Deck” lived in Calgary where the parents Fred and Betty resided. Janet was the advocate, often dropping everything in her life to fly to Calgary to help fight Goliath or give Judi a break in caregiving. Many times, especially when searching for a good facility to put their mother in, they felt like it was “an unrelenting effort for not much progress.” In fact, I found that this search for longterm care was most insightful, one from which anyone in a similar situation could learn from. For example, one facility appeared promising, but they had cats for the patients to interact with. Betty hated cats so that one was crossed off. Another mixed their residents with dementia in with those who, as the Director said “had all their marbles.” (She confided that those cognitively intact would not stay that way long!) That one was summarily crossed off. They were encouraged to keep strong by one of Goliath’s palliative caregiving experts whom they met earlier at one facility: “Keep on loving your mother and being her advocate. Those are your daughter jobs.”

Conclusion

Extremely straightforward, informative and even amusing at times, this book was definitely a labour of love just as all the caregiving either “on deck” or at “a distance” was. It was advantageous for both Fred and Betty that Janet and Judi got along so well so that decisions could be made efficiently with a minimum of infighting that may have caused unnecessary delays in getting assistance. Moreover, providing a unified front – either in an emergency room, a long-term care facility or in writing a letter to the Minister of Health at a critical juncture-  was decisive in getting the proper care for their dwindling parents.

A must-read for any baby-boomers like Janet and Judi who are dealing with parents in dwindling health, or for children of baby boomers that represent the “grey tsunami” which is beginning to hit the rocky shores of health care in Canada.

To learn more about the book, the Twin Team watch videos and more, visit http://www.journeyspress.ca/

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