When I saw the theme for this year's National Family Caregivers Month, I knew I had to write this post. I had a unique way to connect with other caregivers while my dad was going through his cancer treatments over 100 miles away from me.
Helping to counteract Isolation
The 2023 theme (put on by Caregiver Action Network) is #CaregiversConnect. As we know, Caregiving can be lonely. Coworkers don't know what you're going through. Even extended family members may not be able to provide much support. It is crucial, especially during long-term caregiving, to be able to form connections with others who "get it."
Living on my own in the Milwaukee area, I relied heavily on phone calls on my non-smart phone. This was even kind of before video calling. I know, I'm old ;) Every night, I'd call and check in on mom and dad and see how they were both doing; Dad physically and Mom emotionally. She worked full time and cared for my Dad's needs...medication refills, appointment scheduling, house upkeep...If you're new here, my Dad was a fabulous cook and many recipes I use are inspired by him! He continued cooking through his illness/treatments for brain cancer. I think it provided him an outlet/his own form of Relief.
How I found connection
All of this to say, I wasn't able to provide much support other than phone calls and weekend trips north. It is a helpless feeling! I don't even remember now how I found the brain tumor support group at Froedtert. Probably googled it...on my old Dell laptop from college. I decided to give it a try. It was the first time I'd ever been to Froedtert and I was very confused in the parking ramp (again, I'm from a small town!). Finally found my way to the right place and walked into a quiet meeting room with some even quieter and, quite honestly, very tired looking patients/caregivers. It was a typical support group setting where everyone was welcome to share their story/ask for advice. Many seemed to know each other and they each took a turn giving updates on their treatments. Sometimes the patient spoke, others the caregiver did. It was eye opening. My Dad was not the only one going through the unthinkable. My Mom was not the only Caregiver doing all the things. I'm pretty shy and felt awkward because I was the only one there who didn't have a patient with me AND the only one who had no connection to Froedtert (my Dad was seen in Madison and eventually Green Bay). My first meeting I think I gave the very basic details and said something like, "I live far away from my parents and I'm just here to try and learn more from others going through something similar."
I continued going for probably almost a year, once a month. It was almost like a therapy session for me. Emotional but also somewhat healing to just be in the company of, and CONNECT, with others. I can't even describe how helpful that can be for a Caregiver (or a Caregiver's family member).
Were there patients from the group who passed away during that year? Yup. But were there also small wins that some got to share with the group? Also yes. It's why I so enjoy cooking at Kathy's House and Ronald McDonald House. Caregivers that stay there CONNECT. You can just feel the connection in both of those kitchens. People there are brought together under terrible circumstances but are making the best of it.
Next Steps to finding Connection as a Caregiver
To Caregivers reading this...please consider CONNECTING with other Caregivers at our upcoming spring fundraiser on March 16 at Hot House Tavern in Menomonee Falls. It is a night of honoring/acknowledging the selfless work taken on day in and day out by Caregivers just like yourself. We'd love to have you and help you make connections with our Relief Squad and other Caregivers! AND best of all the proceeds go directly back to our "Doses" of Relief program! Tickets on sale soon (*at an early bird price!) on our website www.therightreliefinc.org or contact Hollie at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info on sponsoring or attending the event. As always, feel free to request Relief or refer a Caregiver at this link.