There is no universal recipe to be a good caregiver. Everyone has his or her own flavor and style. Whether caring for a spouse, parent or friend, one of the main ingredients is remembering each is not alone.
About 15 caregivers gathered Nov. 29 at the St. Joseph Community Fire Hall to learn about area resources and networking as they shared their journeys. There were tears, there was laughter and there was unity among the group. Some had taken care of loved ones for years, some had lost loved and others were there to learn what’s needed to be a caregiver.
Marjorie Henkemeyer, health and wellness minister at the Church of St. Joseph, said the presentation and gathering had three main purposes. The goal of the event was to celebrate the caregiver, provide a means to network and to share information about being a caregiver. The networking component of the day is where attendees thrived.
“I think it went well,” Henkemeyer said. “They’re sharing their stories and networking. It helps to share.”
St. Joseph resident Peg Walsh appreciated the information she received from the event. She is preparing to care for her 82-year-old mother. Her mother lives in the Twin Cities so Walsh came Nov. 29 to get more information about the transition process for her mother and herself.
“It was very interesting,” Walsh said. “I feel ready to get started.”
In addition to the sharing of resources by organizations including the Central Minnesota Council on Aging, the Assumption Community in Cold Spring and Arise Home Health Care, nursing students from the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University moderated a panel of caregivers.
Panelists spoke about role reversal, relinquishing care of a loved one and the grieving process. Dianne DeVargas spoke about the reversing of roles when her father’s health began to fail. While she was growing up, her father led the household. She eventually took on a leadership role to aide her mother.
“My mother did the cooking and the cleaning,” DeVargas said. “It was a male-dominated household. (All of a sudden) I had to explain what was happening to my father to my mother. She was used to him telling her things.”
Vince DeVargas said when someone devotes his or her life to the emotional care of another person, adaptability is essential. The best advice, he said, is to read all documentation pertaining to your loved one, talk to your loved one, doctors and other family members and learn as much as you can about what being a caregiver means.
Vince and Dianne helped care for Vince’s mother. He said he is grateful for his wife’s support and vice versa.
“If you’re independent and become a caregiver, it changes your life,” DeVargas said. “Caring for a parent is difficult. Your parent is your parent. Even if you’re 70 years old, your mother is your mother and you’re the kid.”
St. Joseph resident Sheila Dodge shared her struggle with allowing others to care for her mother. It was a transition for both she and her mother, she told attendees.
“I thought I was the only one who could take care of my mom,” Dodge said. “I had to convince her that it’s OK to ask for help.”
Dodge’s mother happily lives in Arlington Place in St Joseph.
It can be hard to share personal stories about one’s family, especially about those who have passed on. One thing attendees walked away with from the event was a feeling of knowing each is not alone. Henkemeyer closed the gathering by sharing a holiday caregiver recipe. Main ingredients include an apple a day for health, supportive friends and family and a rubber-band to stay flexible.