Here’s to the family caregivers

“Caregiving is hard, even on the good days when it brings joy and fulfillment.”

November is National Family Caregivers Month, an opportune time to tell the story of a circle of support for Vashon family caregivers.

In April of this year, the Vashon Care Network extended an invitation to family caregivers to be with others walking a similar path. Over the past six months, more than 35 islanders responded to the invitation. That response is probably the tip of the iceberg.

Each of these individuals represents a household where family and friends are devoting their days, 24/7, to enable loved ones with chronic, often terminal conditions, to stay in the comfort and safety of their own homes.

The circle of support meets every Thursday from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Vashon Lutheran Church. Attendance varies, with about ten people sitting together each week, sharing concerns and joys and always feelings of exhaustion and worry.

“We drink tea, eat cookies, laugh a lot and sometimes cry together,” said one participant recently. “For this one hour, I can honestly talk about the daily challenges I face and all the ways that my own life is upended.”

Although many caregivers are not able to come in person, there is an unspoken bond and sense of community. As one person poignantly described: “Our common bond is our commitment to the person we love and care for.”

In many instances, dementia or chronic illness has robbed a child or a spouse of the person they have known for a lifetime. The group is about “grieving on the fly” and leaving with a lighter heart.

Perhaps the best way to recognize this National Caregivers Month is to look around your own neighborhood and support someone caring for a loved one at home. This could be as simple as offering to pick up the mail or groceries, stopping by with a plate of cookies or sending a card or email.

Rosalynn Carter sums up the picture: “Caregiving is hard, even on the good days when it brings joy and fulfillment. It requires dedication, determination, and time.”

The weekly gathering of family caregivers provides a glimpse of an island challenge. The demise of Vashon Community Care, limited medical resources, an unreliable ferry system and the difficulty of finding paid caregivers all combine to make family caregiving an exceptional challenge for our aging population.

The Vashon Care Network invites anyone caring for a loved one at home to join our support circle at the Vashon Lutheran Church, 6:30 – 7:30 pm, every Thursday. For more information, contact Kathy Shafel, or 206.718-1458 or Tory Hayes, or 206.304-4544.

Carol Spangler is a former Vashon Care Network Board member and co-chair of the Caregiver Support Team.