The RCI is a service unit of Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, Georgia, and combines advocacy, education, research and service in supporting caregivers by promoting caregiver health, skills, and resilience. The focus is on helping caregivers cope with chronic illnesses and disability across the lifespan. This includes such a wide range (everything from autism to cancer, Alzheimer's to traumatic brain injury) that to get a full representation, I suggest you take a look at their caregiver resources page: www.rosalynncarter.org/ which features over 100 links to information and assistance sites. The programs of outreach include the Georgia Care-Net Coalition, which represents 12 regions around the state and serves as a voice for caregivers, the REACH program for Alzheimer's caregivers providing training and support in partnership with other organizations in 17 states, and Operation Family Caregiver, which provides free, confidential support, counseling and training for military family caregivers in-home, or via telephone or Skype. If you or someone you know could benefit from this program, call for information at (229) 931-2034.
The Summit featured keynote speaker Elizabeth Dole, who spoke eloquently on behalf of the million (yes, million!) military caregivers who are valiantly trying to cope with the approximately 725,000 veterans who are returning from the battlefield with both visible and invisible injuries and disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). The urgent need is overwhelming the services the Veteran's Administration is able to provide, leaving so many families in dire straights. Elizabeth Dole has created a foundation to assist these many military family caregivers in coping with the crisis: Elizabeth Dole Foundation website
With Elizabeth Dole's inspiring and passionate words still reverberating in our hearts, there was a brilliant presentation by Gregory Fricchione, MD, Associate Chief of Psychiatry and Director Benson Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Fricchione's presentation was simply amazing in its depth, scope and brilliance as he related very technical evidence of how the very evolution of the human brain over 120 million years influences those suffering PTSD and TBI. He communicated this complex information in such an accessible way and with humor and compassion that I found it truly engaging. I couldn't miss the comparisons of battlefield stress disorders with some of the same symptoms exhibited in the chronically stressed caregiver. Dr. Fricchione put it in context that was understandable and also hopeful. His funniest points were about the greater adaptability of slime mold (as compared to the human brain) and also, his opinion that the canine species was infinitely superior in unconditional love. (I think I agree with him about dogs! He even showed a video clip of his dog meditating - definitely a higher species!) I was vastly reassured that such brilliant researchers are bringing light to the issues we are facing. If you'd like more about this, his slide show may be found through a link on RCI's homepage for more Summit info. Without his charming quick wit and personality, it just isn't the same!
I was so impressed with the excellence of the programs and the caring compassionate hearts of the people involved. I met people from all over the world who are each working in their own way to support caregivers. There was such an atmosphere of hope, collaboration and cooperation and the convergence of politics, education, public support, private corporate sponsorship, recognition of excellence, community outreach and caring hearts -- I have never seen the like before. How could one not be inspired and uplifted?
"We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty."
I'd like to share a story about struggle that was told to me years ago by a minister friend and mentor. It touched me deeply at the time and still resonates. It's a message of hope for anyone who is struggling, a ray of sunlight shining through the tiny hole in the cocoon: (Story of the Butterfly as adapted by Paul Coelho)
A man spent hours watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. It managed to make a small hole, but its body was too large to get through it. After a long struggle, it appeared to be exhausted and remained absolutely still.
The man decided to help the butterfly and, with a pair of scissors, he cut open the cocoon, thus releasing the butterfly. However, the butterfly’s body was very small and wrinkled and its wings were all crumpled.
The man continued to watch, hoping that, at any moment, the butterfly would open its wings and fly away. Nothing happened; in fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its brief life dragging around its shrunken body and shrivelled wings, incapable of flight.
What the man – out of kindness and his eagerness to help – had failed to understand was that the tight cocoon and the efforts that the butterfly had to make in order to squeeze out of that tiny hole were Nature’s way of training the butterfly and of strengthening its wings.
As a caregiver, are you stuck in the cocoon, struggling to burst forth as a butterly, but utterly unsure how to do that? Does the cocoon feel dark and scary and more suffocating than nurturing? It's important to remember that we all have "caterpillar" moments -- times when we simply cannot envision the transformation that needs to happen for us to fly free. Don't give up hope! There's a bit of sunlight shining through to guide you. Have faith that the struggle will be over, you will triumphantly emerge, stretch your beautiful butterfly wings and soar!
Karen is a compassionate, enthusiastic student of life, who cared for her mother for 17 years. She brings her insights, compassion, experience and desire to share knowledge and healing to this ongoing conversation with others on the caregiving path. If you are caring for a parent, spouse, friend or other loved one this site offers sanity-saving tips, open-hearted self-care ideas, and an open forum for discussion, connection and sharing resources for the journey.
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