Written by Kristi Whitaker, LMSW, CBIS
November is Family Caregiver Awareness Month, and, in honor of that, our Brookhaven’s November Seminar was, “Living with a diagnosis: different perspectives for care partners and persons diagnosed.” It was one of the best I have attended in the year I have been part of the Brookhaven family. Nancy Weber, a Brain Injury Case Manager at Brookhaven, her sister, Susan, and Susan’s daughter, Heather, led an insightful, heartfelt, and honest conversation on how daily life looks for everyone involved when a family member gets sick. In this case, Susan was diagnosed with a terminal disease, FrontoTemporal Dementia. Since that time, Susan and her family have had to continually adjust to evolving demands of this disease to honor Susan’s autonomy, as well as attempt to balance their own lives. In a solemn confession, Nancy and Heather confessed they never feel as if they are doing enough for Susan, nor are they giving enough to their own lives, while Susan shared her difficulties in communicating her needs and appreciation for all they are doing. Tears were shed both on stage and in the audience, as many in attendance were familiar with the caregiving experience.
After sharing a generous amount of their lives and experiences, Nancy posed a question to the audience: Who of the three women should be in counseling? The attendees all seemed to agree that the person with the diagnosis and the caregivers should be seeking counseling and outside support during these trying times of Susan’s illness. To my surprise, when the audience was asked for a show of hands at who specialized in counseling in this area, only one therapist raised her hand, and she revealed she was retired. In a room of 50+ health care professionals, the majority of them therapists, not one could offer services that an entire room agreed were needed.
This reminds me of the importance of not only focusing on our generalist practicing skills, but also exploring specialties and niches that appeal to us. We need to be aware of the needs in our communities and find ways to supplement and enrich them when we are able to do so. Seeking advanced training and attending conferences not only strengthens skills we currently use, but it challenges us to go beyond our comfort zones.
We truly appreciate Nancy, Susan and Heather for sharing their story and allowing us to learn from them. We wish them all the best, and I hope others in attendance also heard the challenge to find their niche.