Dale L. Baker is an award-winning author. She was born in Ohio, completed high school in California, graduated from college in Oregon and now lives in Hawaii and Arizona. She retired from county social services in 2003 to take care of her husband full-time. Her book More Than I Could Ever Know: How I Survived Caregiving” (a best seller in the AZ retirement community of Westbrook Village) is usually read in one sitting, then passed on to another caregiver, if not kept for reference. Often gift copies are bought. More Than I Could Ever Know: How I Survived Caregiving is a BRONZE MEDAL WINNER in the 2014 Living Now Book Awards and a FINALIST in the 2014 USA Best Books Awards. For more information about her writing career see her website http://msdaleLbaker.com or just Google “Ms Dale caregiver.”
Interviewed by Jan Bowman – December 2014
Jan: Thank you, Dale, for writing this important book and agreeing to talk about it with me. You’ve said, “Every caregiver needs a support group. You might think that you don’t, but you do.” At what point in your husband’s illness did you come to that reality?
Dale: That phrase comes from a man in my old support group in Portland who was taking care of his wife. It was advice that he had been given from a colleague—“guy talk” around the water cooler. “Support group? You think you don’t need one, but you do.”
I didn’t think I needed one either until I had a melt-down at a grocery store. My husband and I had made it through the rigors of his first cancer together but when he was diagnosed with a second untreatable cancer I felt alone and overwhelmed. Helping him get better so we could go back to living happily ever after was one thing. But, watching him slowly deteriorate until I was left a widow was something entirely different. I was at a loss.
Jan: What do you wish someone had said to you and to your husband when he got the second cancer diagnosis?
Dale: No words would have helped me. A hug would have been better. People would say “let me know if I can help” but I didn’t know what to ask for at the time. Then they disappeared, waiting, I guess, for me to call them. What I needed was for someone to call me on a regular basis and say “what can I do to help today—pick up groceries?—wash a load of clothes?—sit and have a cup of tea with you? If you really want to help a caregiver, keep in touch. Be available to do little things. They are SO appreciated. Don’t wait for a crisis call.
Jan: Chapter 19 of your book offers five tips for surviving. To what do you credit your own survival in the face of the daily stress of caregiving?
Dale: Participating in a weekly support group changed my caregiver life. The other life-saving tools—breathing, yoga, respite—came later, after my mind had cleared. I had bottled up emotions that needed to be expressed and on-going decisions that had to be made. The support and practical knowledge that I received from other caregivers kept me focused on my job of taking care of both my husband and myself. Even though I was not interested in joining in at first, the time came when it was essential for me to participate. I encourage all caregivers to seek out a group that’s a comfortable fit. I gladly facilitate one in my community.
Jan: What was your initial reaction when your husband began to help you put together a “To Do” list before he died? How did that help you?
Dale: I was deeply touched with his thoughtfulness. In fact, from that moment on, his focus was on my well-being rather than his. He was my hero again—the proud strong man I married who wanted to protect and provide for me. He felt useful again. Our “To Do” activities took us away from the grind we were in of illness and pain management. It was uplifting for me—a time of joy that softened the tragedy of losing him.
Jan: How do you feel about the current “right-to-die with dignity” movement in this country?
Dale: Having lived in Oregon for most of my adult life, I am very aware of and have contributed to the death with dignity movement. I was a supporter even before I came face-to-face with loved ones in their declining years. None of my people (husband, Mom, Dad) considered ending their lives early but watching them struggle cemented my own wishes to have a different ending for myself. If I were diagnosed with a terminal illness I would not want to be the “one in the bed” for very long. It’s too hard on the “one bringing juice and pills.”
Jan: Do you plan to write about this topic or a related topic in the future?
Dale: Poetry is my first love. I am close to finishing a very personal book of photographs taken by my niece who is a professional photographer (Tamara at Every Emotion Photography). My poems open and close the book and are sprinkled through the middle. I also want to gather all my poems (many about caregiving) into one collection. In addition to the poetry work I am writing short stories again. Fans have been asking me for the full story of the long black dress and tango night that I mention in Chapter 19. It will appear in my humorous online dating manual for widows.
Jan: Is winning two book awards the highlight for you as an author?
Dale: Actually I can think of two experiences that thrilled me as much as the literary recognition.
The first one happened in my dentist’s office. When I slipped into the dental chair I saw a copy of my book lying on a table separating me from another patient on my right. My book had only been released a few weeks earlier so I was thrilled and shocked that anyone who was reading it would be having their teeth cleaned the same time I was. Not only did I have a wonderful chat with the woman who was reading my book, but my dentist took pictures of both book and my smile for her website.
The second heart-warming experience happened recently. “I survived caregiving,” a reader wrote. “This book helped.” I have received many lengthy 5 star reviews on Amazon, but this brief one sums up my mission.
Winner of the 2011 Roanoke Review Fiction Award, Jan’s stories have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes, Best American Short Stories, and a Pen/O’Henry award. Glimmer Train named a story as Honorable Mention in the November 2012 Short Story Awards for New Writers. Jan’s stories have been finalists for the 2013 Broad River Review RASH Award for Fiction, 2013 finalists in the Phoebe Fiction Contest, 2012 “So To Speak” Fiction Contest.
Jan’s fiction has appeared in numerous publications including, Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, The Broadkill Review, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes and most recently, Uncertain Promise: An Anthology, Edited by Von Pittman. She is working on two collections of short stories while shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection, Mermaids & Other Stories. She has nonfiction publications in Atticus Review, Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers. Learn more at: www.janbowmanwriter.com