January is National Mentoring Month: Caregiving Takes a Village, and Sometimes a Mentor

Family caregiver, Eileen Parry, shares why her caregiving mentor, Scott Drysdale, is so important to her: “He’s walking my walk. He’s somebody that is walking my walk, has been there and done it, and has had the same experiences as me.”

Duet’s Mentor/Mentee Service Equips Family Caregivers

Eileen needed a reality check. A retired special education teacher in the Mesa school district for 30 years, Eileen thought she was well equipped to manage and care for her husband, Jon, when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2009. Jon is a retired veteran who completed two tours in Vietnam and had been exposed to great amounts of Agent Orange. Eileen shares, “He told me that he had noticed that it [the jungle] was lush and green, and then they would spray the Agent Orange, and it would be black the next day.”

Jon’s tremors began in 2005. The couple sought medical advice and spent the next four years seeking answers before eventually securing his Parkinson’s diagnosis. Eileen had a new reality and role—caregiver to Jon. In the midst of navigating the disease, their five-year-old grandson came to live with them, and it was then Eileen first heard about Duet’s free-of-charge services for grandparents raising their grandchildren. She found support and resources for raising their grandchild and discovered the additional support Duet offers for family caregivers.

Eileen began attending one of Duet’s family caregiver support groups. “I was getting overwhelmed with Jon who was showing signs of increased depression and mood swings, and our goal was to try to keep Jon living at home as long as possible.” To supplement her support, family caregiver services director, Janet Richards, suggested Duet’s Caregiver Mentor/Mentee service to Eileen. This peer support service is a lifeline that bridges the gap between caregivers in need and seasoned caregivers eager to share their wisdom. A carefully selected mentor was then matched with Eileen, and her “village” grew by one very important person, Scott Drysdale.

Scott, a retired sales professional with Anheuser-Busch Companies, is a 67-year-old family caregiver caring for his wife, Cindy, also living with Parkinson’s. He brought experience and wisdom to the mentorship having navigated his wife’s disease for ten years longer than Eileen. From restoring old cars to volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, mentoring was a natural extension of Scott’s penchant for helping others.

Of his mentoring, Scott explains, “It’s really more about validation that you’re doing the right things and having someplace to vent where you’re not ‘venting,’ really, you’re just sharing the journey together, as opposed to venting with somebody who has no idea because they’ve never walked in your shoes.” He continues, “other people really don’t understand the day-to-day living with somebody with a disease like this. So, I think that’s probably where Eileen was struggling, you know, I think I was further along in that.”

For Scott, mentoring has brought a sense of validation to his own caregiving journey, and an unexpected friendship. He shares, “I think the friendship I was not expecting, but it’s right there. So that’s been fun.”

Duet’s family caregiver support groups are a safe place to share circumstances and learn what to expect as a loved one’s disease progresses. But for Eileen and Scott, they have found an additional and unique way to survive and thrive by leaning on one another through their mentor/mentee relationship. “It’s a lonely job being a caregiver. It just is. And, I think, sometimes that loneliness doesn’t have to be such a big deal,” explains Scott. “I think everybody needs somebody to talk to, and that’s really what it comes down to.”

Now when Eileen feels overwhelmed and needs to manage her expectations of Jon’s unexpected challenges with Parkinson’s, she turns to Scott. And Scott reminds her, “Okay, reality check here.” She adds, “He doesn’t let me just slide but instead says, ‘come on, get real here, Jon’s no longer capable of doing the things he used to do a year ago, and you can’t expect him to do that.’” Because of Scott, Eileen is better equipped to modify and adjust every single day to new caregiving challenges. “It’s a change in my whole attitude and perspective.”

Family caregivers need support, both emotionally and physically, to prevent burnout and maintain their own well-being. Duet offers diversified family caregiver support groups, as well as a peer support Mentor/Mentee service as a valuable resource for caregivers to find one-on-one emotional support and guidance to navigate the challenging journey of caregiving. To learn more, contact Duet family caregiver services at (602) 274-5022 or click the button below.