By Laura Mansfield
Suddenly, five years ago, my world fell apart as my parents tumbled headfirst into old age. It was a pivotal time in my life. I was remarrying after a decade of being a single parent. My son was leaving the nest, starting college, while a special-needs stepson was landing unsteadily in my new nest. I was leaving my successful career at a high-powered advertising agency to start my own consulting business, which would allow me greater flexibility to care for my parents, my new family, and to watch over my son as he spread his wings into early adulthood.
It seemed doable. I was living the life of my generation—Gen T—the Taffy Generation, because “sandwich” just doesn’t cut the mustard. My friends and I are pulled like saltwater taffy as we have children later, our parents live longer, and we blend families in non-traditional ways. We’ve long since quit believing in the myth of work-life balance.
I started writing about my journey into eldercare on Facebook in what I called #GeezerUpdates. The Facebook posts quickly gained traction and morphed into a blog at geezerstories.com and ultimately a book—my bittersweet memoir, Geezer Stories: The Care and Feeding of Old People.
There’s no how-to manual for taking care of old folks. We’re all flying blind here as our parents slide into their second childhoods. My book has a bite to it, with a backward glance at my own childhood. It’s a survival story about how to persevere in the face of inevitable hardship. It’s about choosing to age gracefully, despite the pain and the pathos. As my father, aka DooDaddy, famously said, “Growing old is not for the faint of heart.”
Over the past five years, my second marriage failed, my business faltered, and my son lost his way, as I found myself torn apart by the seemingly endless demands of caregiving. I moved three times and changed jobs four times, ultimately ending up back with the agency I left five years ago. And I lost both my parents agonizingly to cancer, which they faced with courage and dignity. My son graduated from college and has become his own person. My life has come full circle.
One of the many blessings of this tumultuous time was my father holding court at my Geezer Stories launch party. He had read the book—which was not always kind to him—three times. He could no longer walk or stand or even sign his name. I had a stamp made of his iconic scrawling signature, which he gamely stamped on each copy as he shook hands and gregariously greeted his fans that afternoon at Union Ave Books. It was a triumph. We sold out. It was DooDaddy’s last public outing.
While my parents did not suffer specifically from Alzheimer’s, they experienced the many indignities of dementia, memory loss and all ilk of physical frailty and ailments. They lost their freedom, their mobility, their lucidity, their ability to eat, swallow and speak, but never their humanity. And they taught me the meaning of compassionate caregiving in the process. Geezer Stories is my story, and it is also theirs—of love and loss, of humor and humanity, in the context of family and the ties that bind us all.
The book has been well received, making several bestseller lists on Amazon and generating a groundswell of support from fellow Gen T caregivers, who have their own geezer stories to share. Caregiving comes in many forms, flawed and fragile, but ultimately beautiful. Hopefully, our parents did their best. Hopefully, we will do the same.
Purchase Geezer Stories: The Care and Feeding of Old People on Amazon.
About the Author
Laura Mansfield grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee surrounded by cats, books and good conversation. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in English and later an MBA in finance. Formerly a professor of advertising and public relations at UT, Laura has a flair for storytelling, which informs her work as a public relations manager for an advertising agency recognized by Fast Company as one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies. She’s also a certified yoga instructor and passionate yoga practitioner. Laura has one son, one dog and a cat named Richard Parker. Laura writes from her home in East Tennessee.
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