Q&A with Rachel Michelber, author of Crash: How I Became a Reluctant Caregiver

1. What is CRASH: How I Became a Reluctant Caregiver about and why did you write it? 

Crash is my memoir of the years following my first husband’s involvement in a plane crash. He sustained a severe traumatic brain injury and left me with our two young children.  I came to the difficult decision that I would not assume the role of his caregiver.

I’d never thought about being a writer. I was a musician – a professional singer.

But I had a story that I realized needed to be told. I’d read books and articles by people who’d rallied to overcome the challenges of being thrust into the being a caregiver – but nothing about those who’d rejected the role. I wanted to give them a voice.

I’ve often been asked if I wrote it as a therapeutic measure – to achieve some kind of closure about my decision and that chapter in my life. During the writing I denied that motivation – but in the interim since I finished writing I’ve come to understand that that’s exactly what I was doing. No one wants to relive painful memories, but sometimes it’s the only way to move past it. I’ve certainly achieved not just an acceptance of my truth, I’ve grown to respect my resilience and self-awareness.

2. How can we maintain our self-care during caregiving without feeling guilty? What are some self-care practices you recommend caregivers engage in?

Self-care is crucial – not just for personal happiness and well-being but also for mental health. It’s one reason I didn’t take on the role of full-time caregiver, I knew I couldn’t do both. For those that are in that situation, taking full advantage of your support system is paramount. If someone offers help – be it providing meals, offering to shop, or just come over to keep you company – by all means accept their offer! 

Find activities that bring you joy. I love my hot baths. Walking in beautiful natural settings, gardening, and – of course –  reading have been my go-tos.

3. What are some tips for parenting while caregiving for a spouse?

Since my husband David never came home (that story is the crux of my book) I didn’t have to face those challenges. If he had been at home it would have been like parenting three children instead of two, since he was so cognitively impaired. 

My challenges as a single parent during that time were colossal, especially since both kids were so traumatized. Again, I used my support system – in this case hiring babysitters (or using family) to get some much-needed time off. Also – standard good parenting advice  – such as setting clear boundaries and expectations – was even more important since I was doing it all alone. I tried to keep their lives as normal as possible – lots of activities such as children’s theater, dance, karate. And I arranged a lot of playdates for them. 

4. How do we deal with resentment or anger while caregiving. For example, what should we do if we become angry or resentful that we have to forego our interests, passions, hobbies, or even career to take care of a family member?

This is exactly why I chose not to take on the role of caregiver – I knew that I would become resentful which would have a negative impact on the whole family. Having a therapist – or at least some good friends in whom one can confide – is critical. It’s so important to have non-judgmental, supportive people to be there for you. I wasn’t David’s caregiver and I still needed therapy to get me through those awful years of lawsuits, single-parenting and pushback from David’s family about his care.

5. Anything else? 

The message I want to convey is that caregiving is hard, no matter what the disability is. When it includes a compromised cognitive function, it adds yet another layer of complication, because he/she is no longer the person you knew. I have the most profound respect for caregivers, paid or not, because it requires almost complete selflessness, sacrifice and dedication. 

Almost everyone – especially women – will be faced with a caregiving dilemma at some point in their lives. Usually it’s centered around a parent needing care, but sometimes – as in my case – it’s a spouse, child or sibling. I want readers to be honest with themselves – can I do this, not should I do this? To allow themselves the option – when financially and/or physically possible – to consider a different choice than is expected of them.