By Darren Lum
Mickey Bonham said looking beyond the challenges of caring for a loved one is an important lesson she learned from her experience with her late-husband Glen, who lived a full life and loved Haliburton.
Married for 22 years, the Highlands resident was a caregiver to Glen for five years, which included two years of “major caregiving.”
This included numerous hospital visits, surgeries, with stays for weeks at a time for medical procedures in Peterborough. It was stressful for both in different ways. For her it was the mental gymnastics of handling issues alone, which used to be taken on together, and for him it was the guilt that comes with knowing your loved one is doing it alone.
At the start, the caregiving was related to a heart surgery and a recovery period of close to eight months. The demands increased a year later when Glen was diagnosed with cancer. Although he was physically capable for the most part, the caregiving took its toll in other ways, but without family in the county to help it was the support of friends, who could share their experience going through similar situations that truly helped Mickey through the adversity.
“So I had a couple of really good friends who were very helpful because I could ask them questions and they could let me know what their experience was and it might not have been exactly the same as mine, but it would be close enough that it was helpful,” she said.
The perspective gained by sharing and being with others enables people to see a different way of looking at something, which can be optimistic, or even “more realistic.”
“If it’s just the two of you up here and you don’t have children up here they’re all in the city or wherever, you know, it is a very lonely kind of experience. It can be and if you don’t reach out to other people, like your friends, etc … you find yourself really getting to be feeling alone all the time because there is so much that you have to tend to and look after by yourself. You’re used to doing everything as a couple,” she said.
This goes beyond the caregiving, which includes the stress associated with medical appointments, but can also include simple maintenance practices at the home, and related to the upkeep of the family vehicle.
An upcoming Powerful Tools for Caregivers workshop not only enables an opportunity for caregivers to come together for support, but it will also ensure caregivers do what they can for self-care said the Home and Community Care Support Services Central East’s senior manager Trish Topping.
“And that looks different for everybody, but helping people to navigate how do they take care of their own health based on their own health and their own needs. We’re really trying to keep people healthy, so that they’re able to continue on in their role and they’re not ending up in a role where they’re then needing care as well,” Topping said.
The workshop is a collaboration between the self-management program central east and the Haliburton Highlands Health Services.
Topping adds there’s a really high rate of depression and anxiety among caregivers.
“So bringing in more of the activities that they want to do, bringing in more joy and just leading to an overall improved quality, quality of life,” she said.
This isn’t just beneficial for the caregiver, but provides help for those being cared for.
It’s been seven years since Mickey’s husband Glen died from cancer in 2015 and she remembers how her husband felt happier when he knew she had support.
“I remember Glen feeling good about the fact that I had good friends that I could talk to because he always felt so badly because he was putting me through all of this, right? And so if there was a support group or workshop going on that I was attending that would be the same thing. He would feel good and he would feel that that was something that was helping,” she said.
Pre-register for the free six-week workshop starting Feb. 24 by calling 1-866-971-5545. Held Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., the series of workshops will be delivered online on the Zoom platform. The workshop requires the use of a computer, including a camera and audio setup to participate. Participants will learn about looking after oneself, using community resources, creating an action plan, share experiences and learn from others in the workshop, learn about managing caregiving stress, taking action: stress reducers, develop methods to be assertive and not aggressive, listening to emotions, dealing with depression, understand the transition process, planning for future goals and how to implement.
The perspective gained through a group met through a workshop is an aspect that Mickey would have appreciated had she been given the opportunity to participate in this workshop.
“When you’re going through this you’re so focused on what’s happening day-by-day, and all the appointments, all the travelling, all the medications, all the nurses coming and going here at the house that I think, possibly, it would have helped. If I had a group like that to go to it would have helped me to get beyond just that day-to-day struggle … because there would have been people in the group that were at different stages and maybe you would see that there is a transition. But you get to be so focused on just what you have to do to get through each day. That I think being able to talk to someone in a structured way would [have been] helpful,” she said.