Five Ways to Put Your Heart on the Page: Putting Words to the Caregiver’s Journey

Deborah Shouse

My mother’s Alzheimer’s drove me to write. My writing inspired me to speak.

Over the last years, I have received enormous pleasure connecting with people all over the world, sharing the stories of finding hope in the caregiver’s journey.

 It All Started with Grief

When I initially realized the depth of my mother’s memory loss, I was shattered with grief.

My initial reaction was:
Visit with Mom.
Drive home, blowing my nose and wiping away my tears.
Stumble into my house.
Stare numbly into space.

One day, during the “staring numbly” phase, my partner Ron said, “Are you writing down your feelings?” It was a smart and sensible thing to say; I was, after all, a writer.

“I don’t feel like writing,” I said.

But his words stayed in my mind. Three days later, I altered my behavior.
Visit with Mom.
Drive home, blowing my nose and wiping tears from my cheeks.
Stumble into my house.
Write numbly for an hour.

Writing my Way from Grief to Insight
I poured out my fears, confusion, anger, and grief. After doing this for a week,

I began noticing how fascinating my visits with Mom were; we were explorers on a wild inner trek.

I started documenting our time together, taking notes during my visit. I wrote about the challenges, humor, and blessings. I jotted down my conversations with my father, with friends and family and with the aides, nurses, and social workers. As I wrote, I realized how much hope, promise, and energy there was in my new world.

Instead of crying when I drove home, I thought about how I could transform my notes into a meaningful essay.  As I shared my work with friends and with my writing critique partners, I understood I was chronicling my mom’s last years and capturing part of our family history.

Bringing Your Life to the Page
How do you take a challenging part of your life and bring it to the page? Here are a few simple tips:

Pour Out Your Feelings.
Give yourself time to feel your emotions, whether it’s through writing, art, music, or other.

Notice the Details.
Write down the particulars, noting simple concrete facts. You are a researcher collecting data.

Uncover the True Story.
Look for the universal meaning in your specific experience. What is the larger message huddled inside your experience? How have you changed? How will the reader change through reading your words?

Seek Feedback.
Read the story aloud and see how it sounds. What’s working and what’s missing? Ask writing colleagues for a critique. Think over their advice and decide what is right for you.

Share Your Writings
When you’re ready, share your writings with family and friends and then reach out to a wider audience, using your experiences to connect with others and share information and insights.