HELP LINE: Upcoming caregiver conference can help

I’VE BEEN WRITING columns about caregiving for as long as I’ve been writing columns, which is longer than most of us care to remember.

A funny thing about caregivers is that most caregivers don’t know that they’re “caregivers” — they just think that they’re the wife, the husband, the daughter, the niece or the grandson, etc.

So I’ve always included this helpful, totally original, definition: A caregiver is somebody who’s taking care of somebody who needs to be taken care of, whether they like it or not.

Then, one day when I was taking care of my mother after she succumbed to a right-brain stroke, thinking of myself as the son who was doing what needed to be done, I suddenly realized: Wow. I’m a caregiver.

That’s how it often happens. We’re just going along, doing what needs to be done out of love, loyalty, duty, default or desperation (or any of the 10,000 other reasons that get us there), and we suddenly realize: Wow. I’m a caregiver.

Yeah, you are.

And it is, in my opinion, some of the hardest work there is.

And I don’t care whether you’re doing the full-tilt, 24/7, hands-on routine or just holding a fragile situation together day by day (or hour by hour) — it’s tough.

It changes your life.

But what are you going to do? There you are. You can’t stop doing it.

Call a timeout? Yeah, right. How would that work?

So you just keep on. I know.

And that can be a very … lonely thing to have to do.

What I’m hoping you’ll do is consider a little something for you, caregiver.

I’m hoping you’ll consider attending the 11th annual Building Your Caregiver Tool Box conference Nov. 18 (that’s a Saturday, if that helps) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Port Angeles Senior & Community Center, 328 E. Seventh St.

It’s free. In fact, if you call 360-452-3221 before the end of this Wednesday to register, you’ll even get a free lunch out of it. Really.

And why would you do this?

Well, you could grab some free breakfast munchies, be able to see what quite a few local entities might have to make your caregiving life a little easier and catch a keynote address by Candace Hammer Chaney, RN, on the caregiving experience in today’s world.

Free lunch.

Then, in the afternoon, a few of us will do a question-and-answer panel on local support services (yeah, OK, I’m one of them, but there also will be four other genuinely bright people involved, so it should be worth the doing).

Also, consider the fact that a lot of us will be around throughout the day, so if you just want to have a side conversation about this or that, let’s do it.

But here’s one of the best parts, in my opinion: You can spend a few hours around folks who are doing what you do: being caregivers.

They know how it feels, and they know what it takes, and they’ve often invented incredibly clever ways of getting things done.

It is truly an amazing experience.

I know what you’re thinking: How can I go to a caregiver support conference when I can’t get away, because I’m a caregiver?

I get it.

And I’m not going to pretend to have some clever, magic answer. I don’t.

But many of us have often heard the phrase, “… and if there’s anything I can do to help … .” Well, maybe this is the time to take some folks up on those offers.

And if you can only make it for part of the day, great. We’ll be glad to see you.

It’s not like we don’t understand.

This is designed for the amazing, professional caregivers among us, as well as for us family, friends, I-don’t-get-paid-to-do-this types. It’s still the hardest work there is, so come on.

Stop.

Just see the picture in your mind, for one brief moment: spending a few hours among people who are doing what you do every day, week after week, month after month.

Nobody is going to tell you what you ought to be doing or how you ought to be doing it.

Because we’ve all been there, or we are there now.

We know how it feels.

And who knows what you might learn?

There’s always that one thing that you just can’t quite figure out …

We get it.

I get it.

Now, call 360-452-3221 and register before you think yourself out of it.

You only became a caregiver; you didn’t stop being a human being.

You deserve it.

________

Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing harvemb@dshs.wa.gov.