January 4, 2010

Student reflects "Losing Herbie" film

Losing Herbie helps Strayer University student Shanna Averre realize that she may need to make future plans for her own family. Read Shanna's essay below.

Caring for an aging parent, elderly spouse, domestic partner or close friend presents difficult challenges – especially when a crisis hits and you are suddenly faced with the responsibilities of elder care. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, the number of “unpaid caregivers” is set to reach 37 million by 2050, an 80 percent increase from the year 2000 (Baldauf, 2007). “Losing Herbie” documents the struggles placed on a family when they decide to become the caregiver to their aging father/grandfather who also suffers from dementia. Three major things that stood out the most to me in viewing this documentary was the emotional conflicts placed on the family, the effect on relationships within the family, and financial aspects the family had to face.

Throughout the entire documentary the first thing that stood out to me was the emotional journey each family member experienced. Starting with the aging father we were immediately shown how bad his dementia was and when asked a question about what town he lived in, he earnestly answered “I surely cannot remember.” I was struck by his disappointment and his unwilling acceptance of not having control over his mind anymore and how absolutely devastating that must be. I forget a name of a song or a thought I want to share and it drives me mad! I admired his daughter and her husband for coming back to New Jersey just to take care of Herbie, her resolve to take care of her dad the way he had taken care of her all her life. Yet she experienced conflicting emotions as she realized the effort involved in trying to run a house, a job, be a wife, a mother, and a full-time care-giver to her father. She experienced overwhelming love for her father but frustration, depression, and guilt as the task sometimes was overwhelming. The husband and children also experienced conflicting emotions, the joy and love that Herbie brought to the family and the resentment from him always having to be the number priority in the house.

The second issue I noticed was the strain put on the various relationships in the house and the importance of having a strong loving family that communicates with each other. The husband and wife mentioned that Herbie had definitely put a strain on their marriage. Getting caught up with all the responsibilities they didn’t have time for each other. The children also expressed some resentment in the fact that when trying to have one of their parents’ attentions it always was short-lived, as something would happen with Herbie that would pull their parents away. The kids, even in their disappointment, knew however, that Herbie did require attention and it wasn’t his fault. The kids have to grow up so fast in dealing with aging, sickness and death. The parents mentioned being scared that one day the kids would not come talk to them about something important thinking that they were too busy with Herbie. However, I also notice that the family seemed to grow closer in sharing the responsibilities of helping and providing love to Herbie.

Lastly, the financial strain the family faced definitely caught my attention as I realized that one day I might be in a situation where my parents need full-time care. Herbie’s family chose to provide home care rather than place him in an elderly home. Caring for someone with dementia is one of the most difficult challenges facing caregivers as people with advanced dementia requires 24-hour surveillance. The Winokur family had to hire two nurses to help care for Herbie. In order to cover the cost they had to sell their father’s home. The cost to place a loved-one in an elderly home or assisted living facility is even greater and is often not even a considerable option for most families.

Watching “Losing Herbie” I realized the importance of having a plan for aging loved ones. It is important to talk to your family members early on while they can be part of the decision process. It is important to talk to your family members about personal goals, housing issues, who they trust to make decisions for them when the time comes, sorting legal documents, discussing healthcare issues, and exploring financial options. The emotional aspects of providing care for an aging loved-one are difficult enough; you shouldn't have to worry about the financial and planning aspects as well. With some foresight, planning and a little help, you can be assured of making your loved-ones last days as comfortable as possible for everyone involved.


Baldauf, Sarah. (2007). 15 Ways to Take Care of Your Elderly Parents. US News and World Reports. Retrieved December 1, 2009, from


- Shanna Averre