Sometimes reality really bites. Alzheimer’s has wrapped Mom’s brain into knots, vascular dementia has attacked Dad, and, instead of carefree retirees, we have become caregivers. Regardless, dreams die hard, and we somehow stumbled into the purchase of a forty-foot motor home. That’s when all four of us set out on this seven-week trek across sixteen U.S. states. Now, Dad stopped-up the toilet again, Mom wet her last pair of clean jeans, and David just announced that he was hungry. My head is beginning to pound, and I know this isn’t going to be the easygoing retirement we’d imagined for ourselves.
Linda Brendle takes you on a roller-coaster ride of emotional and spiritual challenges that many families are facing right now. Co-dependency, mental breakdowns, and finding love after divorce are just a few of the issues weaved into this journey of caregiving. Whether you’re looking for an inspirational story to help teach you how to “let go and let God,” considering becoming the caregiver for one of your own parents, or are just looking for an entertaining travel book, this story is sure to strike a tender nerve.
1. What made you decide to write the story of your life?
When I became a real hands-on caregiver, especially after Mom and Dad moved in with us, I often went to my aunt for advice. She cared for both her mother and her husband for many years, so she had experience to back up her advice. One thing she told me was to keep a journal, because one day my experiences might be of help to someone else. I didn’t write every day, but after a particularly trying episode, I’d write about it and post it as a “note” on Facebook. People responded in various ways: This is hilarious. Wow, I didn’t know anybody else ever felt this way. Thanks, I needed to hear this today. It encouraged me to continue.
When we planned the trip I tell about in the book, I decided to keep a daily journal. A couple of weeks into the trip, I mentioned the journal to Christian Piatt, my son and a fellow writer. He suggested I expand it into a story, not only of the trip but also of our lives. It took several years and lots of growing pains, but after fourteen edits, it became a book.
2. How difficult was it to relive some of those memories?
Some memories were more difficult than others. The memory about the letter I wrote my mother as a teenager was particularly hard. For several days, I would walk away from the computer, refusing to deal with the hurt that was apparently festering somewhere in my heart. However, the need to tell the story eventually overcame the reluctance.
In a recent article about writing a memoir without upsetting your loved ones, I talked about speaking the truth in love. I finally took my own advice and revisited the letter incident. By looking at it from Mom’s standpoint as well as my own, and I was able to write and move on.
Other memories were painful but not as psychologically wrenching. In those cases, I simply kept a box of tissues close by and wrote through the tears.
3. Tell us about the editing process. Was it easier or harder than you expected?
Producing a manuscript I felt was ready for submission took longer than I ever imagined. As I mentioned in the first question, I revised it fourteen times before my first serious queries were emailed. I finally stopped for fear of editing the life out of it.
When I signed with Anaiah Press and met my amazing editor, Jessica Schmeidler, I didn’t know what to expect. The thing I didn’t expect was to lose most of the first chapter in the developmental edits and the rest of that chapter and half the second chapter in the next round. I don’t like change, and I don’t take criticism very well, and to say I had trouble adjusting would be a great understatement. However, Jessica was unruffled, and after she talked me down from a proverbial ledge several times, I learned to trust her experience. Throughout the weeks of editing, I realized that Jessica loved and respected my story as much as I did. She also respected my position as the author, and sometimes allowed me to use phrases like is he the squinch-eyed one or the bug-eyed one, even though they weren’t grammatically correct.
Yes, editing was harder than I expected, but it was also more educational and a lot more fun. Jessica and I have become great friends, and we are the first two charter members of #TeamPersnickety. I’m still not sure which of us is the persnickety one.
4. What hurdles did you have to overcome while writing your memoir?
The biggest hurdle I had to overcome was my own fear and lack of confidence. I have always wanted to write, but my fear of criticism and rejection prevented me from following through. Finally, when the need to put thoughts into words became greater than the fear, the ideas bubbled up from that writer place inside, and all those ideas became a book.
Once I wrote the book, there were naysayers who said memoir wouldn’t sell unless the author was a celebrity. I was also told that the Christian tone of the book would greatly limit my target audience. However, by that time I was committed to the process, and I kept at it until I found Anaiah Press who liked both my story and the tone of the book. It has been a long road since I scribbled my first draft in a spiral notebook, but thanks to persistence and the wonderful staff at Anaiah, I have become a published author.