On the morning of Aug. 27, my husband, Sandy, and I said goodbye as he left home to go fishing with his son. Little did we know that by day’s end, our life would change in ways we’d neither imagined nor would we have chosen. As a result, we’ve found support we never considered needing.
The fishing trip abruptly ended when Sandy experienced intense back and chest pains and nausea. His son got him to the harbor, EMTs got him to South Peninsula Hospital and LifeMed Alaska got him to Providence Hospital in Anchorage. Alaska Heart Institute physicians diagnosed Sandy with a torn aorta. It also was determined he’d suffered a spinal stroke. Two weeks later, Sandy was well enough to be transferred to South Peninsula Hospital. Six weeks later, he came home.
The impacts on our life were overwhelming. Sandy found himself limited to a wheelchair and hospital bed, a lift to move from one to the other and a degree of dependence poorly fitting his temperament. I assumed responsibility for Sandy’s round-the-clock care. The more there was to do, the harder I tried; the more I tried, the more exhausted I became. Thankfully, Lena, the South Peninsula Hospital social worker, called a halt to my unrealistic attempts, making it clear Sandy and I weren’t alone. There were others willing to help.
That important message is underscored at meetings of the Homer Area Caregiver Support Group. Launched a decade ago, and currently facilitated by Pam Hooker, it meets twice a month in the Homer Senior Center dining room. One of the monthly meetings is reserved for speakers, the other is for participants to share with each other. What’s said in the group stays in the group.
“Our purpose is to provide support and helpful information from other professionals in the community, as well as to bond with and learn from each other,” Hooker said. “Caregiving is a 24-hour job and can be overwhelming at times. Our group helps to give some relief, as well as developing friendships with each other. … We welcome any caregivers who are providing care to loved ones and to assure them that they are not alone.”
Louise Rempel, who also cared for her husband, had a mindset similar to mine.
“I didn’t see myself as a ‘struggling’ caregiver for awhile. I guess I thought I was Superwoman and could handle it all,” Rempel said. What she found in the Caregiver Support Group was a safehaven where she could share her struggles and realize the importance and enormity of caregiving, as well as the value of sharing experiences and learning from others.
“Once a person is on the ‘caregiving journey,’ you see things through new and different eyes, and in a group like this, people understand each other,” said Rempel. Although no longer a caregiver, she continues to be part of the group as a way to give back and encourage others.
John Lancaster became involved in the group two years ago after he began caring for his 90-year-old mom and completing Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska’s Savvy Caregiver course.
“I feel very comfortable sharing my experience with others,” Lancaster said. “Sharing my experiences might be beneficial for others. Additionally, the professional speakers who attend our meetings provide valuable knowledge to strengthen my ability to care for myself and my mom.”
Sandy and I also are fortunate to have his amazing medical team helping us navigate our new life. Hospice of Homer has provided equipment, supplies and a fabulous volunteer-turned-friend. Experienced in-home caregivers help us manage our days. Independent Living Center coordinates support from the Veterans Administration. Family, friends and neighbors unfailingly make good of their generous offers of help.
There’s an African proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It also is taking a village for Sandy and me to rise to our new challenges. There’s another saying that “a problem shared is a problem halved.” That is proving true for every step of the journey we’re now on.
The group meets the second and fourth Thursdays of the month. For more informtation, contact Pam Hooker at 907-299-7198 or Janet Higley at 907-235-4291. Future speakers include Dr. Giulia Tortora and Emily Munn, Homer Medical Center, end of life documents; Christina Cooper, Homer Senior Center, new adult day center; Fresh Produce with Martty Zeller and Company, communication skills.
McKibben Jackinsky is a former Homer News reporter and a freelance writer living in Homer.