How Fern Took an Overwhelming Personal Experience and Created a New Business From It

Invisible Stories Episode 3 with Fern Pessin

On today’s episode, I speak to Fern Pessin, author of I’ll Be Right There: A Guidebook for Adults Caring for Their Aging Parents. In addition to being an author herself, Fern also works with people on telling their stories.

I’ll Be Right There was written to remove the overwhelm of the caregiving role and support families on the caregiving journey; to help people know what they didn’t know they needed to know when they find themselves in the role of helping a parent.

In this episode we discuss:

  • Your memory/recollection you recount in your book isn’t going to align always with the memory of others you are talking about in your book. You just need to clear it with them in advance or include a disclaimer that says this is told according to your truth and memory, and it may not match up to how others may have remembered the experience.
  • Make it a habit to write every day.
  • Writing can be a cathartic experience, getting everything out of your head and onto paper, so you can have some emotional separation when you are editing it.
  • Get it all on paper. And then you can look at it after.

I’ll Be Right There by Fern Pessin

When we talk about our bucket list, we focus on the things we want to do before we die. What about the list of things we DON’T want to happen as we start to age? What do we call THAT list?

I’ll Be Right There is a guidebook for adult children caring for their aging parents—during what can be an emotionally charged and challenging time.

The stories, information, worksheets, and resources in I’ll Be Right There will clarify what you already know, and provide you with what you absolutely need to know, for each stage of your parents’ aging.

In every page I offer what I’ve learned as a daughter called into service by her family, to help you navigate the rough waters of parental caregiving. Everything from communication, to financial and legal strategies, to managing mental and physical health challenges is covered—just like we are having a conversation.

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Key Takeaways

  • Timestamp: 2:50: “The one thing that really I guess surprised me is that so many people who are caregivers don’t call themselves or think of themselves as caregivers. So if I’m living in New York and my parents live in Arizona or California or Florida or whatever, I might not consider myself a caregiver even though I might be sending them financial support, or they may be calling me for technical support, Or their doctors may call me and explain something so that I can explain it to them. So people don’t consider themselves caregivers when they are not living with the person, or not directly providing service that a paid person would provide. There are so many more caregivers than you can even imagine in this world. And it’s not just taking care of parents. There are also people that take care of children who are challenged or have health issues, taking care of sick pets and things. I consider all of those caregivers, and all of them cause stress and all of them need to have that stress reduced by learning ways to make things easier and be more prepared so that nothing sneaks up on you and overwhelms you all at once.”
  • Timestamp: 4:48: “The book came from just trying to answer that question to make a list. What is it that I learned? Then I figured that it might be 20, 25 pages of lessons I learned that I could give out to my friends and people I met. And then I realized, ok, if I tell you this but I don’t tell you how I learned that, or how you can do it, then what good is it? And by nature, former schoolteacher here, I am an organized person that does lesson plans. So I started basically saying “Ok, well if I wasn’t me, and I was somebody else reading this, what do I need in order for me to learn this, or do this, or follow your steps?” And so each time I did that, it got longer and longer. And as I went out in the community and was talking to people, attending conferences, when I was going through my home health aide course, I was thinking there’s an idea! Oh, they need to know this! Oh, I’ve gotta find that I’ve gotta put that in there. There’s a resource everybody needs to know! And 352 pages later…”
  • Timestamp: 7:56: “When I first started this journey, I wanted information. I needed to know so many things. But I didn’t know what I needed to know. A friend of mine says, ‘You can’t explain what rice tastes like if you’ve never tasted rice.” And I agree. You can’t know what you need to do as a caregiver until you start caregiving and all of a sudden you need to know it. So somebody, actually it was a really nice compliment, somebody said to me that my book felt to them like the book everybody gets when they’re pregnant, What to Expect When You’re Expecting. And they said that my book is that, but for taking care of your parents. Or taking care of even a spouse.”
  • Timestamp: 9:18: “I wanted to honor all of the different stories that are out there, and you can’t really do that if you microcosm something.”
  • Timestamp: 12:10: “That’s I think what my intention was. To tell it as if I am talking to you right now. It has my sense of humor, my sarcasm, how I grew up thrown in, and try not to embarrass my family too much by telling these stories.”
  • Timestamp: 12:53: Jenn: “Do you have thoughts or did you approach it a certain way when you were deciding what stories to include, to ensure that you’re not embarrassing your parents?” Fern: “Well, my mother will never see this. I had to tell my parents that I was doing the book obviously. And they were very proud. And then I said, I just want you to know before you read this, that in some cases I might have had to elaborate on a story a little more than you remember it. So that they wouldn’t get upset because they are true to me episodes that they probably see in a different way. And I need to tell this book, in this book I need to talk in my voice and my truth because other caregivers will relate to that. But my parents may not have remembered the stories in exactly the same way. My brother has a completely different recollection of childhood, and all the incidents that happened in childhood than my sister and I. We keep looking at each other going, “what is he talking about?” So in the book, when I share stories, it’s my story. And when other people, when I help other people write their books, it’s their story from their perspective. And when they “clear things” through their family, they need to make that clear. I am not trying to hurt you or anything, I am telling it from how it felt to me. How it is in my memory, and how I recall the situations all around it, which may not be the same as how you remember it. But how I remember something as a 10 or 12 or 18-year-old is different than how I would recall it as the adult in the house at the time. I think everyone needs to give themselves a little bit of a break. I think surprising people by publishing by not telling them it’s coming out would probably cause more anxiety and issues than if you share it upfront and if you will have a disclaimer.”
  • Timestamp: 19:42: ”And just please know that all you authors out there that the first version is catharsis. Especially in memoir, this is not so much like in a business book. But in a memoir book, or even in a fiction format. It’s just getting what’s in here out of here and onto the page. And anyone who is helping you write, anyone who teaches you just says “Let it flow.” Let it all flow out. Get everything onto the paper because once you have it all laid out, then you can take a step back and you can look at it and you can sort it out and organize it all, if you’re not using the strategist to help you with that, you can figure out what goes where, how it gets set up, all of that. Because that catharsis is so wonderful to get it out and like be able to look at it and evaluate your own behavior, evaluate the people around you, from a distance.”
  • Timestamp: 21:44: “I think people see their lives in flashbacks, and they see it almost the way clips from a movie make it seem like everything happened by minutes. But it spans a whole generation or something. I think that that’s when we write, we are writing those flashbacks. We are writing just little stories. And then it has to eventually come together because if you are putting a book out there, it’s gotta sort of have a theme, and a purpose and all of that. And so I do think that it’s a great way to write because telling each of those stories hits a point. And then you can look at all the points. And also I just want to say, by the time you get into your 15th revision or something like that. Which you will get to! A lot of the emotion for you starts to go away, and you can start to read it like for example, if you give the book to an editor, and you get it back two or three weeks later, you can read it as if you were just reading someone else’s story. Because you had that catharsis, you let it all go, and now you are reading a nicer version of everything that happened that isn’t so emotionally connected anymore. Because you’re able to tell the lesson you want them to get from your story.”
  • Timestamp: 24.17: “When I went through the author academy you had mentioned, write for the person you think is going to read it. Not everybody is going to read it, but write for that one person who you’re going to give the book to, who you want to read it. And people who make movies, they want a mass audience to come to the movie. But they make it for a particular person. Who is the audience that is really going to vibe on this? And then that’s how they do their marketing, that’s how they do their promotion. And I think it goes the same for a book. You know that there is somebody that is going to find value in your lesson. And one of the things that you taught me that I tell everybody because I think it’s so important, is that even if someone has told the story. You’re the child that lost parents early in your life, or you’ve been the child of an alcoholic or you were abused or whatever. And it’s like there are a lot of stories about that now, why should I tell my story? And you said it to me: It’s because no one’s heard that story in your voice. And I think each of us has a voice, and somebody out there will find your voice the one that they connect to and relate to.”

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