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Bestselling author Gail Sheehy finds life around the corners of new passages

Gail Sheehy was the keynote speaker at the Florida Boomer Lifestyle Conference in Tampa earlier this month.

\uFEFFWILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Gail Sheehy was the keynote speaker at the Florida Boomer Lifestyle Conference in Tampa earlier this month.

TAMPA

Gail Sheehy had a confession to make.

When she wrote Passages three decades ago, her bestselling exploration of the stages of adult life, the descriptions stopped at 50.

"I thought at that point, 'What happens after 50?' " she said.

Turns out, it's a lot.

"We go through more passages and predictable crises between 50 and 75 than at any other stages of our lives," she said.

Sheehy, 71, was the keynote speaker at the inaugural Florida Boomer Lifestyle Conference held at the Tampa Convention Center earlier this month.

Hosted by CreativeTampaBay, the conference pulled together a variety of speakers who shared ideas and insights on how to tap into the boomer market — nearly 80 million strong and considered the biggest, most well-educated and wealthiest generation in history.

Sheehy predicted boomers will redefine the aging process — along with the market for new goods and services — as they live longer, hold down varied and meaningful careers, and maintain greater health than their parents.

Women who live to 50 with no serious diseases may well live to be 92, Sheehy said, but added: "Whoever prepared us for the possibility we might live long enough to forget the name of our first husband?"

She predicted the saucy silver generation will revolutionize work patterns as they embrace a "gig economy."

"Everybody I know has two or three gigs, not just one employer, because you never know when they're going to slough you off or go out of business."

But a lousy economy is not the only thing standing in the way of complete happiness for boomers.

They make up a huge portion of the "sandwich generation" — those with both dependent children and frail, aging parents.

One day, Sheehy said, they may receive a life-changing phone call: Their loved one has fallen, has dementia or a life-threatening or chronic illness. Suddenly, they become caregivers.

"It's a job nobody applies for," she said.

In her case, her 15-year journey as a caretaker began with a call from her husband's oncologist and the words: "It's not benign."

"It propels you into a whirlpool of denial, fear and confusion," she said. "You're being drafted into something you really know nothing about. You're Googling disease sites which can really traumatize you, tracking down different doctors, listening to conflicting advice from friends."

The caregiver's world becomes a series of revolving doors in and out of hospitals, doctors' offices, nursing homes, rehab centers and home again, she said.

Now Sheehy wants to be a voice of caregivers nationwide.

She's writing her 16th book, this one about caregiving — a task held by 44 million Americans.

And, with the title of Caregiving Ambassador for AARP, she is helping others navigate each curve by sharing stories she has gathered from people across the nation at www.aarp.org/gailsheehy.

Sheehy described the average caregiver as a 46-year-old woman who is holding a paying job and spending at least 20 hours a week taking care of a loved one.

"It's often at the expense of her teenage children, her exasperated mate and her friends who gradually stop calling — certainly it's to (the detriment of) her own health and social life," she said.

More than half of American caregivers hold full-time jobs, she said. And, they maintain their role as caregiver an average of 4 ½ years, sometimes forfeiting their careers, emotional well-being and financial security along the way.

Sheehy advocated for more and better home care, improved services and technology, and a revamping of the broken health care system.

She recalled New Year's Day 2007 after she and her husband waited more than eight hours in the emergency room for a medical scan.

"He said, 'Let's go,' and with the needles still in his arms, I just put a little blanket over him and wheeled him right out of hospital," she said.

"It was our last trip though the revolving door."

Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at treeves@tampabay.rr.com.

Bestselling author Gail Sheehy finds life around the corners of new passages 05/25/09 [Last modified: Monday, May 25, 2009 4:30am]
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