Loretta Gilbert, left, owned and operated a small assisted living residence in Colorado. She served on the Colorado Department of Health Assisted Living Advisory Committee. She lives in Colorado with her husband and much loved animals.
Nancy Walker took care of her mother during the last 10 years of her life. Her background working for small businesses and global corporations taught her to be flexible while managing change. She’s a Colorado native.
Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?
Loretta: I have always had a deep affection for seniors. Growing up on the Wind River Reservation and living on a farm was a magical time for me. It gave me my foundation on how I view life and the world. I learned from the stories that the seniors in my life shared with me. I have never forgotten them and their wisdom. The seniors in my life gave me the keys to the commonsense approach. They showed me it was possible to do things even as life became more challenging for them. They always found a way to keep going, moving forward but in a different way. They never gave up; they just did things differently.
From the farm, I learned the circle of life. Every season had different things that had to be done. I learned about the domino effect early in my life because when something didn’t get done, it could affect something else, making everything more difficult.
One of the people who inspired me to write this book was a dear lady with a doll named Shirley. I met them in an assisted living facility. My soul was touched because Maggie expressed her feelings and thoughts through Shirley. I talked about this in the book as it was a turning point in my quest to help seniors. I wanted to write about Maggie’s story because it was clear that she wasn’t understood. After meeting Shirley, I knew there was a different way. I knew that with a different approach, Maggie could still have joy in her life.
Nancy: I moved back to Denver when my mother needed more help. Because my mom and I had a wonderful relationship, I expected it would be easy to get a place where we could share a house. I would be right there to help with what she needed. Getting the house was the easy part, but everything else was a bit tricky.
Loretta and my mom were very good friends, and I knew she owned and operated an assisted living facility. I found myself calling her regularly as I saw behavior from my mom that I did not recognize, and I wasn’t sure what to do. Loretta was my lifeline as I found my balance and started to apply techniques from her commonsense approach.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it?
Loretta & Nancy: We selected the excerpt from the chapter “When You Are Concerned” because our first tendency is to dismiss changes when getting older or ignore feelings that something is a bit off. Our population is aging, and we invite people to consider what that means to them or their loved ones.
We want to encourage people to start paying closer attention. Be an observer. Pay attention to what you hear and see. Listen to what is said by the loved one and others. We also encourage people to pay attention to what is not being said. A comment like “Don’t worry about it, I’m just fine” should not be dismissed, but instead, it is a call for more observation. Paying attention to the little details and documentation (covered in the chapter) helps to determine if or when it is time to take action.
Throughout the book we talk about becoming informed because things will always be changing. Everyone has busy lives but understanding change and paying attention is vital when you are helping take care of a loved one. Learning to accept change and do things differently in a compassionate and hopeful way applies to families, seniors, and caregivers.
Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you actually sat down to write the book?
Loretta: The book is based on what I call the commonsense approach. I learned the keys that formed the foundation of the commonsense approach early in life. I was inspired by three seniors from whom I learned life lessons that I will never forget. I learned that all life is important. I learned to have a deep respect for all life from birth to death and to understand the circle of life. One of the lessons from the circle of life is that things change. There is such resistance to change in our society, but change is inevitable. The commonsense approach reminds us we can always adjust to that change and learn to do things differently.
Nancy: There is nothing quite like helping your mother for the last 10 years of her life to give you a firsthand understanding of the challenges of getting older. This experience gave me an enhanced appreciation of what it takes to be a caregiver. I learned to adjust my interactions and the way I did things. I constantly applied techniques from the commonsense approach.
Once you began writing, did the story take you in any unexpected directions? If so, how would you describe dealing with a narrative that seems to have a mind of its own?
Loretta & Nancy: We had thought the book would be focused on Alzheimer’s but the more we worked together, we saw the book could be helpful for everyone regardless of age or condition. The book uses the commonsense approach to look at issues that can come up in everyday life. We still find ourselves talking and living what we wrote in the book.
We laughed when we read “seems to have a mind of its own” because every topic felt like it was the most important one and should be at the front of the book. We rearranged things constantly. It is funny how whatever issue you are focused on tends to demand all your attention.
What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?
Loretta & Nancy: It can be very challenging to write about a topic while also living it. While writing the book, we both lost parents and friends and helped others who also lost loved ones. We often had to put the book on hold while we helped friends and ourselves with the final stages and grieving process. What we learned from our losses enhanced the book in many ways. The book is based on life – our experiences and others.
Another challenge was what to include and how much detail to give as every person and situation is different. We had gathered an incredible amount of relevant information. However, it was necessary to narrow it down to a general example that people could relate to but not be too specific as we could not include every variation. We had to write in a way that people could take their unique personal situation and still be able to relate it to the commonsense approach. We added real-life examples and stories that would illustrate the topic, or we would include a typical response and an example of how to view the same issue but using the commonsense approach.
One of the biggest challenges was time. We both had busy lives and collaborated on the book after work hours or on the weekends. We were creative about carving out time to discuss things. Friends got used to hearing that we were not available because of “the book.”
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Has the book raised questions or provoked strong opinions among your readers? How did you address them?
Loretta & Nancy: Our title, “Caregiving Done Differently” often prompted the question of what we meant by “differently.” We know firsthand that life is busy. We see in our own lives how we fall back on habits when demand for our time increases. We wanted to highlight how doing things differently is a reminder to pause and build on what you already know by looking at situations using the commonsense keys.
Family dynamics is another area that raised questions and generated many opinions. This is where denial often comes in. We would hear comments like, “Oh, that would never happen to us – our family gets along.” We all want to believe there won’t be conflict in our family, but we have found conflict does come up all too often when a parent starts to decline, or a loved one passes. It is hard to know how you will react to stressful situations until you experience it.
Whenever we were asked a question, it usually would be about a personal situation with their loved one. The first thing we do is listen and then ask clarifying questions. We would talk about the importance of being informed and using a different approach. We encourage everyone to take what they are noticing seriously. The starting point for anyone concerned is to start writing things down – documenting. Gather more information before circumstances change, and a hasty decision needs to be made.
Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write?
Loretta & Nancy: We talked daily and got together as frequently as we could. We would talk about situations and how we would respond or what to do while using the commonsense approach. Our conversations ranged from common topics to the experiences people might encounter while caring for a loved one.
Our discussions would highlight how using the commonsense approach naturally led to doing things differently. The process was basically talk and write, review, evaluate, make changes and adjustments, and repeat – again and again and again. Our writing focus was constantly evolving and growing.
Who should read this book and why?
Loretta & Nancy: We feel this book should be read by families, caregivers and all seniors as we address issues to help make the aging journey easier. Our society doesn’t like to look at aging. It is uncomfortable and can be discouraging but getting older is part of the circle of life.
Too many people avoid preparing and being proactive for the later years in life unless something happens and they have to take action. Ideally, this book should be read before there is a problem. Thinking ahead, having the tough discussions, being on the same page and understanding change is one of the best gifts you can give to your loved one and yourself. The most challenging place to start is when you are in crisis.
When we look at caregiving, we include the family, the senior and the caregiver. Our wish is for everyone involved in the care of the loved one to work together. The circle of life takes everything into consideration and looks at the whole picture – past, present, and future.
Our book is written for the senior with the encouragement to be fully involved with thinking ahead, making decisions, and communicating their wishes. For the family to have conversations, be on the same page, be honest about family issues, understand change and accept when it is time to take action. There are many parts to caregiving. It is important for the caregiver to have a good understanding of the different categories. This helps to navigate the challenges and the realities along the caregiving journey.
Tell us about your next project.
Loretta & Nancy: We have several projects in the works that we are excited about. First will most likely be Loretta’s project — a children’s book that explores nature as a bridge to understanding the connection of all things. She has had notes for this book for years. After that, we have plans for another non-fiction book. Recently, Nancy has noticed a possible novella lurking in the background.