Grandparents Take on Parenting
Margie sat with her hands clasped on the table in front of her. She looked down at her fingers desperately themselves together as a tear ran down her cheek.
“It’s difficult dealing with the anguish of your kid being a drug addict. I’m dealing with the anxiety of my son’s addiction and parenting his children. I can’t just be a grandma. I also have to be the mom and dad,” Margie shared with the Catholic Charities Kinship Group in Middletown.
Understanding nods and damp eyes blinked back at her as other grandparents described how they gained custody of their grandchildren.
“Your job is to wrap your arms around these kids and tell them you love them,” Karen, the group leader, explained. “Your job is to support these children by giving them childhood memories they will cherish.”
Children who lose their parents to addiction need love more than they need material items. Karen shared how she shopped thrift stores to clothe her grandchildren. Other grandparents shared tips on finding free family-focused activities and scholarships for youth sports teams.
“My heart is broke. I’ve been trying to keep my son alive, and I cannot turn my back on his children. I was a foster child. My grandchildren will not grow up that way,” Margie said. She has been raising four grandchildren for six years. They spanned three-months-old to four-years-old. They’re doing well in school, but financially it’s difficult. Margie added, “I’ve always worked. It just doesn’t go very far.”
The Kinship Group concluded their first meeting vowing to return again next month.
“We need this,” one grandfather said. “We need to know we’re not alone.”
The Middletown Kinship Group meets at noon the first Thursday of every month at the Robert Sonny Hill Jr. Community Center. Kinship groups meet at Catholic Charities Hamilton office at Noon and St. Joseph Church at 3 pm on the second Thursday of every month. To learn more about kinship support groups, visit ccswoh.org or call or email Angie Hoemelle at 513-672-3834 or email@example.com.
Powerful Tools for Caregivers
“It’s important to listen to our emotions,” Jeanne Cairns, the workshop leader, explains to the group in Middletown. “Feelings are never good or bad. What’s important is how we deal with them.”
Together these women brainstormed effective ways to manage their emotions. Cathy who is caring for her mother says sometimes she pauses, takes a deep breath and steps back. Her mother’s dementia leaves Cathy exasperated at times. She enjoys attending the workshop. Cathy said, “This is a step above other support groups.”
Ellen expresses her disappointment with what her and her husband’s life has become. She encourages her elderly husband to walk more, to get out of bed, to take an interest in life. “Sometimes I feel guilty. Would have, could have types of thoughts weigh on me,” Ellen says. “I think the hardest thing in life is to learn how to forgive ourselves. We will screw up because we’re not perfect people.”
Angela Hoemelle listens intently. She leads Catholic Charities Caregiver’s Assistance Network. Angela says, “Guilt is common among caregivers. It’s easy to assume things would be better if we had acted differently. Sometimes what we’re actually feeling is regret or remorse. We haven’t done anything wrong to be guilty, but regret the circumstances.”
Participants of the 90-minute workshop receive a handbook, skill-building tools and participate in stress-reducing activities such as guided imagery. Catholic Charities provides the free workshops with support of a start-up grant provided by the Ohio Department of Aging. Join us at an upcoming workshop.
Caregivers Create Friendships
Rose sits peacefully with Chris, sharing coffee and fresh-baked cinnamon cake just days before Christmas. They reminisce over the friendships that are formed over the last 14 years at the Caregiver Support group sponsored by Catholic Charities at Bayley Place.
“My husband passed away nine years ago and our anniversary was coming up. I shared how we had always gone out to dinner and I guess by voice changed as I spoke,” Rose said. “The next thing I know everyone wanted to go out to dinner with me.”
More than a dozen support group members met Rose at O’Charleys. Her son and his family joined them as he wanted to meet his mother’s new friends.
Chris said, “Friendships are formed here. We enjoy each others friendship. Even when spouses pass away, their caregivers continue to come to the support group to support other caregivers who have become friends.”
It’s common for caregivers to neglect tending to their own needs when they’re caring for a loved one. They put their loved one first and sometimes this takes a toll on their own health or leads to isolation.
Sometimes the loved one becomes so dependent on the caregiver they feel helpless when left alone.
“My husband would wait by the window for me. Once I went to the grocery store and ran into an old friend. We started talking,” Rose said. She explained how terrible she felt when she returned home and realized how much her husband had missed her. He died six days later.
“It’s the little things that haunt us,” Chris, a social worker who facilitates the group with the experience of caring for her terminally ill husband. “One of our members described how much her husband enjoyed colored lights on the Christmas tree because the multi-colored lights reminded him of his childhood. His wife and caregiver also preferred white lights. Later, after he passed away, she regretted not giving him a Christmas tree with multi-colored lights.
Caring for the Caregiver
Throughout her twenties, Stephanie kept a secret from her mother by hiding an eating disorder.
By the time Stephanie reached her thirties, her secret was out as she became a regular at the Linder Center of Hope for treatment. She weighed less than 80 pounds and needed an ostomy to offset the physical damage to her body.
Her mother, Laura, a middle-class woman of early retirement age, now provides the round-the-clock care Stephanie needs.
But who could Laura turn to take care of her needs as the primary caregiver?
Stephanie’s condition limited her social contacts. As caregiver, Laura felt tremendous guilt about her inability to keep such an intelligent young woman constructively engaged in the home on a 24-hour basis. Naturally, Laura felt overwhelmed with this responsibility. She also struggled with the sense of helplessness that many caregivers, particularly, family members, experience. In addition to caring for Stephanie’s physical needs, Laura also was dealing with the underlying anxieties and mood swings that are at the root her daughter’s life-threatening illness.
Reaching out for help
During one period of Stephanie’s hospitalization, Laura reached out to our Caregiver Assistance Network (CAN) for advice and attended several group discussions. Laura described her daughter as very smart, but terribly bored at home. Her interests were limited to reading and computer work.
When Stephanie was ready to come home again, Laura, working with CAN volunteers, had a plan ready to support both of them and keep the family together. We helped Laura equip their home with Webcams and set up accounts so that Stephanie could interact with relatives and old friends with whom she had been able to keep in touch.
They also helped Stephanie to help herself by helping others. A couple of days a week, Stephanie visits nursing homes in the area and works one-on-one with senior residents to teach them the computer skills she enjoys so much. This not only empowers the elder residents to take the initiative in chatting and corresponding with loved ones far away, it gives Stephanie a renewed sense of self-value and important social interaction.
This family continues to face serious challenges, but with compassion, counsel and understanding, they are empowered to face those challenges together.
CAN is made possible by your support.