everyone's experience will be different in so many respects.
I've been a caregiver for my wife for over 30 years, and many of Sheehy's suggestions and resources were helpful (or would have been helpful) to both of us over the years. And, it's always interesting to learn about other people's experiences -- sometimes they are extraordinarily helpful.
One example: about 27 years ago I saw a public television documentary about a young couple with a small child, the husband with an incurable form of cancer and with a life expectancy in months. The young wife was poorly educated but very articulate: she worried about how well she was able to care for her husband, whether she was caring for her child properly, what she would do once her husband was gone to care for herself and her child.
On the purely human level, she confessed that she wished her husband were dead -- her life and her child's life would be much better, and neither of them were able to do anyting really important for their husband and father. A few moments later she was very angry at herself for her betrayal of her husband, and guilty, wondering if she was an evil person in the sight of God. The human agony she expressed was heart breaking -- and instructive for me.
Many times over the past several years I've worried whether I've done all I could, or as well as I could, to help my wife. Every time, though, that I started to feel guilty about those failures, I remembered that young woman and the extra self induced agony she was adding to her own life. She's inspired me many times to simply acknowledge that I could have done something better ... inspired me to resolve to do better in the future ... and simply prevent myself from feeling the guilt attendant to my failings.
Sheehy's honesty portrayal of her own experiences, and her excellent researches on how and why people react in different ways in a caregiving experience can provide the same help to others in her (and my) situation.
At the same time, it is worth mentioning that Sheehy approaches caregiving from the perspective of a wife caring for a husband. Experience shows that husbands are generally less able to handle the responsibilities. A recent study (citation in the first Comment) showed that women with serious diseases were seven times as likely to be divorced as men with the same condition. The study was the subject of an intense discussion on the Well column on "The New York Times" website, with a great deal of male bashing in evidence -- "how pathetic is that?", "men are evil", "Let's face it: women are superior creatures - caring, sympathetic, giving, self-sacrificing. Men are selfish pigs." etc. etc.
It's unclear to me whether men are less able to cope with the challenges or whether the challenges are actually harder for men than for women (in my case, for example, I clearly lack a nurturing personality).
It may be instructive that Sheehy does not address the changes in sexual roles as the result of a major illness, not only loss of the great intimacies, but small intimacies -- the touch of a hand once meant "I love you" may now mean "I'm falling!" -- or nothing at all. A friend once described his sense of great loss: "I reached over to her one night, and there was no one there." I'm a little surprised that an author comfortable writing Sex and the Seasoned Woman: Pursuing the Passionate Life didn't at least allude to this loss and suggest resources for dealing with the issue.
Perhaps mine is a masculine perspective, after all, and at the end of the day men as well as women need help in this challenging role, and perhaps men more than women. Sheehy's book is a great resource for anyone facing the challenges.
Robert C. Ross 2010