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All this need, all the time

Review of "The Dwindling"

“I would never quite be the same.” So ends The Dwindling, a personal and quirky account of Janet Dunnett’s experience in caring for her aging parents. Not intended as a spoiler alert, it is a truth woven through the thoughts and stories from Janet’s perspective. Lest we think caregiving for aging parents is gentle and warm, filled with vignettes of wonderful memories, Janet shares the less-than-perfect but very real experience of helping her parents through their dwindling years.

Unable to reconcile after 40 years of marriage, her parents led separate lives in the city of Calgary. Together with her twin Judi, Janet and her other siblings did their best to be present and advocate for their parents. Numerous visits to the ER, learning to navigate the fractured provincial health care system, and coming to grips with the gaps in services related to either being too sick or too independent for the various elder care homes and facilities are just a few of the realities shared.

Yet Janet takes time to share some of the humour as well, such as explaining how one of the caregiving jobs included sorting the messages on the phone answering machine. Her father could not fathom why people were not responding to him, as he hollered at their messages. Equally moving was the twin sisters’ attempt to honour their mother’s devout faith though Janet quietly questions it numerous times.

Janet’s honesty in working through her own emotions, as her relationship with her parents as daughter is layered with caregiver and advocate, is compelling. Through the mistakes made and the unexpected joys and sorrows, Janet’s son Jamie noted, “It’s a never-ending story, all this need, all the time, isn’t it?” Caregiving may be overwhelming, but it is transformative, reminding us life is meant to be lived interdependently.

  • The Pot family story is about faith and disability as experienced through a life of caregiving for daughters Rachel and Janneke.

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