Blog, CAREGIVERS

A Caregiver Shares Tips for Surviving

Written by: Janelle Tapphorn

“One important thing I’ve done because of the advice I’ve received from Duet’s caregiving services and my support group friends is to get Georgiana [my wife] set up to receive adult daycare for a couple of days a week.”

Jim’s the kind of guy who’ll cover the remaining 43 cents for the cup of coffee you’ve just “treated” him to because you can’t dig fast enough in your purse to find change. Not coincidentally, Jim Meadows’ hat is of the clerical kind. He is a retired United Church of Christ (UCC) minister having spent over 40 years pastoring to others, spiritually, physically, and emotionally. “I’ve always been a giver. It’s what I did for a living—caring for people.” But it’s the last five years that have, perhaps, counted the most.

Jim met his wife, Georgiana, 24 years ago rather ironically at a family night of a gestalt therapy session when his ex-wife introduced them to one another. Georgiana, you see, has a master’s degree in counseling, and worked for several years as a mental health counselor with her own practice. Similar professional hats and a shared love of caring for others forged their marriage of 23 years. Together they have five grandchildren and four adult children, all living at various locations along the west coast.

Both Jim and Georgiana retired in their 60’s; although Jim sheepishly calls himself “retired” as “you never really retire from ministry,” he jokes. When they weren’t traveling, Jim would occasionally answer the call to serve as an interim pastor here and there. In fact, he recently returned to work part-time as a facilitator for Duet’s grief support groups—support for family caregivers suffering the loss of their loved one. When you see Jim and Georgiana together in church now, Georgiana frequently adorned in her vintage hat of the week, they are irrefutably the picture of retirement ease.

In 2018, minor memory issues led Georgiana to undergo neuropsychological testing in which she was diagnosed with mild cognitive disorder—a diagnosis in line with her history of stroke 12 years prior. A new hat.

Since that time, Georgiana has been re-evaluated annually and has slowly progressed to a diagnosis of major cognitive disorder of the Alzheimer’s type. Jim retrospectively recalls warning signs that she was on a declining cognitive path. “We took an ocean cruise in 2018 and she couldn’t remember what state room we were staying in or even the name of our ship. I look back at that now and think ‘what if she’d gotten lost?’ So, I kept her pretty close after that.” And while Georgiana can’t process new information as well now, she knows she can’t remember things and frequently, empirically remarks that “of all the things I’ve lost in my life, I miss my mind the most.”

When Jim found himself repeatedly reminding Georgiana of their preceding conversations or of routine activities of daily living, such as pointing her every night upstairs to bedtime, he became frustrated and worn down emotionally. “Most of the time I’m okay with it, but once in a while it gets pretty frustrating because I know there’s no end to it, and she’s never going to get better. You don’t know how important your memory is until you live with somebody who doesn’t have one.”

So, Jim reached out for support to Duet. Being in ministry, Jim had known Duet’s founder, the late Rev. Dr. Dosia Carlson, and her vision for a community where every person ages with compassion, dignity, and hope. With numerous in-person and virtual support groups, family caregivers have options of how and when to gather with others who are sharing the same caregiving experience and journey.

Duet’s Meaning & Hope Institute—an additional resource for anyone caring for a loved one with dementia—provides resiliency-based self-care to cope with the complex grief (known as ambiguous loss) that often results from caring for someone who is physically present, but psychologically absent. With free of charge virtual resources, such as webinars, symposiums, discussion groups, and other support services, family caregivers learn to recognize themselves as caregiver and take that first step toward reducing stress, building resilience, and finding hope for the future.

Surviving the juggle of multiple hats throughout a day can be taxing, especially for caregivers. By getting involved in Duet’s network of caregiving support, Jim is now more intentional about his own self-care. “I get up early every morning before I wake Georgiana, and that’s a real important time for me. I love to read, especially poetry. I’ve also realized that I hardly ever do anything anymore for ‘fun’. I used to hike, and I’ve been wanting to see how far up Camelback Mountain I can get.”

Jim has discovered a renewed sense of hope and positivity for himself with resources like Duet in his caregiving journey. And when you see him next, chances are it’ll be on a dusty trail up the side of Camelback Mountain below the brim of a UV-protected, mesh hiking hat.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Duet’s support groups for family caregivers.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the broad range of virtual resources for family caregivers of loved ones with dementia at Duet’s Meaning & Hope Institute.

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