Kathy’s Story: Balancing Strength and Support

We often consider a caregiver to be a person tending to the constant, complex needs of an ill or disabled spouse, parent, or child.  The truth is that some caregivers are responsible for many individuals, attending to a multitude of small tasks that together can overload the person if they don’t take time for themselves.  Add to it the unwelcome and unexpected trials that life sometimes brings, and the everyday caregiver’s resilience can shrivel.  That’s what happened to Kathy.

“I’ve been an elementary school teacher for almost 40 years, so my entire career has been about caregiving,” Kathy explains.  The increasing population of children with developmental and behavioral challenges has put even more stress on her job.  Often her students have such difficult home lives that the classroom is their only safe place.  As a morning greeter, Kathy meets students outside and walks them into school, describing it as her biggest joy of the day.  “I always make it a point to know my kids and their parents, and I’m there to do what they need.”

The Caregiving World Becoming Personal

As if the stresses and responsibilities of taking care of her students weren’t enough, Kathy faced unexpected challenges at home when she discovered her 20-year old son had a drug addiction.  “I tried to shield my younger son from what was going on.  He was only eight at the time and really looked up to his big brother.”  Kathy redirected her youngest child through sports, enrolling him in football, basketball, and baseball and did her best to keep a normal homelife.  That became nearly impossible as adversity seemed to stalk her.   In the course of several months Kathy’s brother-in-law passed away, her mother-in-law fell ill and died, and her father was diagnosed with cancer.

Kathy began to feel the weight of the accumulated burden and knew she had to protect herself before it was too late.  She sought counseling and began to attend caregiver support programs at Hope Grows, including the annual Victorian Tea and Uncorked and Skewered where she strolled with other guests in the Hope Grows healing and restorative gardens.  “I especially love the Celebrating You! event at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden,” Kathy says, noting the creative and unique ways the event provides support for caregivers.

A Healing Environment found in Hope Grows

“The people at Hope Grows would tell me how important it is to get away for a while, to take a break.”  Kathy would go to Hope Grows to talk, help with activities, or just be there.  Kathy explains how the atmosphere at Hope Grows is itself a strong support for caregivers. “I love to sit and look out the windows of the sunroom.  Every time I see something different, something that is beautiful in nature.  It’s very therapeutic and helps to ground me.” 

There was a particular activity at last year’s Celebrating You! Event that made a lasting impression on Kathy.  “We learned how to pot a succulent, and they taught us how that type of plant stores water in the thick leaves so they can survive in dry places,” she recalls.  “They only need water every now and then, but they still need water.”

Succulent plants, like caregivers, are able to endure unfavorable conditions for prolonged periods, but even these well-adapted plants need periods of nourishment. 

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