“After two years of this, I should be used to it, but I’m not.”
“It’s just good to say some of this out loud.”
“You gain so much more than you give.”
These are some of the statements you hear at Blount Memorial Senior Services’ monthly “Caregiver Coffee and Conversation” at the Vienna Coffee House. Often, these words are spoken through tears, as people tasked with taking care of a sick loved one share their stories, struggles and experiences as caregivers. No names are exchanged, no details given – indeed, you don’t even have to speak if you choose not to. Everything is strictly voluntary. For some caregivers, showing up means speaking to others, perhaps for the first time, about the hardships they’ve faced not only in keeping their loved one healthy and happy, but also the pain of watching someone they love decline in both ability and sensibility.
As difficult as it may be to put all these thoughts and emotions into words, doing so is the goal of the group. To paraphrase one caregiver, hearing about someone else’s experiences can help you deal with your own, whether you choose to share them or not. Blount Memorial Hospital licensed clinical social worker and Senior Services coordinator Edward Harper says this is because caregiving is not a singular event. “People who come here are looking for three things: hope, strength and experience. They don’t want it given to them. It has to be shared,” he said.
Regardless of whether what’s being shared is applicable to your own situation, it can be equally helpful to know that there is someone else going through similar trials. Many simply sit and listen, perhaps taking solace in the idea that they are not as isolated as they may feel. “The caregivers establish a sense of community there is a common purpose, a common identity and a protective environment that promotes caring for each other,” Harper said.
Soon, the opportunity for caregivers to share will double. Beginning this month, the “Caregiver Coffee and Conversation” will add a second monthly session. Now, in addition to meeting the first Tuesday of each month, the group also will meet the third Tuesday of each month. All meetings are free and take place at the Vienna Coffee House. Owner John Clark generously allows the group to use a meeting room inside the coffee shop in a pairing that Harper considers a blessing. “As a contributor, Mr. Clark knows that this group is an asset to the community. It’s also a great partnership between the hospital and the business community,” he said. “Our regular ‘Caregiver Support Group’ meets once a week at the hospital and will continue to be a consistent resource for caregivers. The coffee house gatherings have a unique value. They are more public, they’re in a more relaxed atmosphere and they’re in the daytime for those who don’t drive at night,” he said.
Harper says the additional sessions offer more opportunities for caregivers to attend a group and experience the feeling that they are not alone. “If you ever come and sit through a support group, you will see the benefit that older and newer participants gain from the act of caring,” he said. “Caregivers do not give up or give in, but they can give out. Blount Memorial wants to extend a sturdy hand when caregivers become vulnerable. It’s about practicing the art of sharing strength, hope and experience. That might be through a knowing look or a cup of coffee afterwards. It is not about the content. It’s about the human relationship that happens there. You just have to provide the place, the goodness of the human spirit will do the rest,” he said.
The next “Caregiver Coffee and Conversation” will take place Tuesday, July 16 from 10-11 a.m. at the Vienna Coffee House, located at 212 College Street in Maryville. For more information, call 865-977-5744.