Review by S. Leigh Hall
Twenty-some years ago, I needed Jeannie Ewing’s and Eileen Benthal’s book, Navigating Deep Waters: Meditations for Caregivers. At that time, my spouse died following two years of struggle as a quadriplegic. Conflicting emotions filled the space he left in my life: grief, gratitude, sadness, and admittedly some relief that he and I both no longer struggled.
Ewing gets it. She knows, through her experience of caring for her own special children, what it’s like when a person is told she has to accept a new normal. Benthal also gets it based on her experiences with her daughter. They understand the highs and lows, the peace and despair, the calm and the chaos.
Using the metaphor of water taken from Psalm 107: 23-30, they provide meditations, reflections and prayers along with journaling space as a way of supporting the emotional and spiritual needs of those who find themselves taking care of a loved one.
For me, I associated the deep waters with the apostle Peter’s confidence when he started his walk across the sea only to sink when he started to doubt. That’s the beauty of the book in that a caregiver can read the short, but powerful chapters and apply them to his or her unique situation. The meditations come first and are written in second person placing the reader in a scene such as being lost at sea or finding peace in the midst of a storm.
Next comes contemplation on the realities of caregiving and the various stages through which a person passes, similar to the phases of grief described by many psychologists. Ewing and Benthal add practical advice on how to navigate through various emotions and how to respond when others want to help but struggle to know how.
Benthal brings it all to an intimate level in reflections from her life nursing a daughter through eighteen years and 90 surgeries as the result of a brain tumor discovered shortly after birth.
My favorite chapter is “Swimming Against the Tide.” My experience as a caregiver presented new challenges on a daily basis. The meditation says:
“There is no time to grieve, and this new challenge has oddly become an invitation to you. You know it seems absurd, but you absolutely must continue swimming against the current rather than with it. You question this decision and grow irritated and frustrated with yourself, but there is a strange confidence that swells in your heart as you continue to fight the raging sea that is merciless to your plight.”
Though the book follows a consistent outline presenting a final prayer and rhetorical questions for journaling, it isn’t necessary to read each chapter in succession. The benefit for caregivers is keeping the book close on a nightstand or coffee table to reference any chapter at any time that might speak to the current situation.
It’s a good resource for family members and friends who want to understand what it means to be a caregiver. Ewing and Benthal are Catholic Christians, and the message presented reminds us that we are not alone, that God is there for us, but I wouldn’t limit the value of the book to just those who believe. I recommend this book to anyone struggling to accept a “new normal.”
Genre: Non-fiction, Guidance
Themes: Caregiving, Stages of Grief, Meditations, Reflections,
Year Published: 2015
Audience: New adults to adults, Catholic, Christians, Non-Christians
Authors worldview: Catholic Christian