Mother Lode: Confessions of a Reluctant Caregiver

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When her ninety-six-year-old mother’s health appears to be reaching its final stage of decline, Gretchen Staebler agrees to leave her life in Raleigh, North Carolina, and move back to her childhood home in the small town of Centralia, Washington, to look after her. The idea is that Staebler will spend a year in Centralia so that her mother can spend as much time as possible in her own home before having to move into an assisted living facility. Still, she is far from certain that acting as a roommate/carer for her mother will be a good idea: “How would I live with my mother when I could barely get through a phone call of her complaints about her health and her constant advice and worry about me.”

Mother Lode: Confessions of a Reluctant Caregiver is Staebler’s account of the period she spent with her mother in Centralia. She writes with humor and pathos about the difficulties associated with returning to a home that is as filled with memories as it is the detritus of her mother’s long life. As an adult returning to her mother’s home, Staebler finds herself quickly adopting her childhood role in the house: petulant and somewhat argumentative, eyerolling at the minor irritations brought on by her mother’s statements and seeking sneaky ways to assert herself and her presence in the home.

The situation is further complicated by her mother’s declining health. She’s a strong-willed and fiercely independent woman, and she doesn’t take kindly to the idea of her daughter—whether Staebler or either of her two sisters—making decisions for her. However, her increasing sight and hearing loss mean that she is increasingly in need of assistance with practical matters, while the suspicion and confusion related to her dementia diagnosis make emotional issues difficult too. Staebler bears the brunt of caring for her mother, although she does have help from family and outside sources.

Staebler finds that life as a caregiver is a real rollercoaster, characterized by sudden highs (such as discovering a treasure trove of letters between her parents and being able to converse with her mother about photos from her youth) and devastating lows (including accusations of being out to get her mother’s money and having to deal with the aftermath of her arguments with her care assistant). Despite all this, Staebler begins to find herself for the first time in a long time, enjoying spending time with family and being out hiking in the wilderness. She also reaches a state of acceptance with regard to her historically difficult relationship with her mother: “I have to accept her: blind, deaf, insecure, controlling, fearful, depressed, pessimistic. And brave.”

Mother Lode is a raw and insightful chronicle of life as a (reluctant) caregiver. Dealing with her mother’s real health conditions is difficult enough—particularly as her declining and then plateauing situation means that she isn’t always eligible for hospice care—but her hypochondria and suspicion make it even worse. Staebler demonstrates remarkable fortitude and patience in caring for her mother, even when she thinks that she’s failing her. It can be a troubling account to read in places, but it is ultimately an example of the triumph of love and resilience.

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Author Gretchen Staebler
Star Count /5
Format Trade
Page Count 369 pages
Publisher She Writes Press
Publish Date 18-Oct-2022
ISBN 9781647422837 Buy this Book
Issue August 2022
Category Biographies & Memoirs