Last time I wrote about my Smith College reunion. Well, another classmate and I led a workshop together about caregiving for our elderly parents. We talked about the challenges that face many of our generation - we love our parents and feel responsible, but have other demands on our lives (work, children, relationships).
There were a couple of themes that emerged: How do we set boundaries? Should we move our parents near us, or should we move near them? How do we care for them when they are far away? How can we use technology to aid us in a way that is not intimidating for them? How do we work things out with our siblings? Who else can we call upon to help us? How do we keep from feeling isolated? How do we keep from feeling overwhelmed?
And there were a few solutions - make at least time for yourself every day - for a cup of coffee, for exercise, for journaling ... It was a very powerful and intimate session with virtual strangers. The act of connecting was, I think, the most powerful part of it. And it became clear that it is important not to be isolated in the process.
The most important and structured suggestion was offered by my classmate, Helene Powers: to form a caregiving group. Helene's husband, Adam, was being treated for cancer several years ago when a friend offered to make dinner for them. This simple act blossomed into a caregiver group - which provided powerful but simple and crucial support to Helene and Adam as they went through the cancer journey, and to Helene through her grief after Adam's death 7 years ago. Helene has written about the process, and has written about how you can create your own caregiving group in a booklet called Friends Indeed: How to Help During a Serious Illness. Check it out!