A Memorial Day Reflection

From the heart

What Memorial Day Truly Means 

As we observe Military Appreciation Week and the upcoming Memorial Day Holiday, Lt. Col. David Benhoff, USMC (ret.) and Director, Capital Caring’s Veterans Affairs Program shares his personal Memorial Day reflection.

As I sit here pondering (struggling, really) what exactly to write, it occurred to me to just speak from the heart.  I’m not a scholar, or an historian, and certainly do not want this to read in such a way. Rather, I want this to be truly heartfelt.  I think that is the best way to memorialize not only our fallen, but all veterans—including and especially those whom we have the honor to serve.

While Memorial Day began as far back as the Civil War, it has evolved over time to encompass much more.  Memorial Day honors the fallen, of course, and rightly so.  They paid the ultimate sacrifice, and remembrance is really all we can offer them now as well as looking out for their families. Many of the citations for bravery that accompany the Medal of Honor, Silver Star, and Bronze Star, make it clear they gave their lives, or came very close to doing so, looking after the men and women to their left and right.  Not for some national policy originating from thousands of miles away, and certainly not for personal glory.  They did it solely for their comrades. They were willing to give the full measure simply out of love for their fellow shipmates and soldiers. From the heart.

As we honor the fallen, we are also looking out for their comrades-in-arms who have landed, not on a beach, but in our care. Capital Caring is proud to serve the many veterans and their families within our community covering Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia.

So, let us resolve to remember the fallen by honoring their brothers and sisters who came back—and are now facing their Last Deployment.  All veterans, even those who never deployed to combat, risked it all.  By swearing the oath, pulling on their boots, and slinging that rifle over their shoulder they put their life on the line for their country with their willingness to run toward the sound of the guns, not away.

And, let us resolve to do this each and every day—not just this one day a year.  The fallen have no more days to give.  Let us stand in the gap left when they departed us, and look out for their brothers and sisters as best we can.  Until the bugler plays the sweet and heart-wrenching notes of taps, and the flag is folded.

Thanks for your service!

Learn more about Capital Caring’s Veteran’s Impact Program here.

Families and Friends Put the “Care” in Caregiving

Celebrating Caregivers during Older Americans Month

Since 1963—more than 50 years ago!—Americans have recognized May as Older Americans Month. The observance provides an opportunity for all of us to acknowledge the contributions of older individuals – past and present. In fact, there are events, ceremonies and fairs in honor of our older citizens all across the country. (Closer to home, Capital Caring is doing our part with an expo designed to celebrate older Americans and their caretakers, as you’ll see below.)

The designation and recognition is especially important as America continues to age. No matter where we are on the age spectrum, our role with our families – whether we are related or connected through years of friendship – may eventually involve more responsibilities and different relationships. If a loved one faces a serious chronic condition or advanced illness, the title of “caregiver” may be added to that of family member or friend.

A caregiver may be a spouse, partner, family member, friend, or neighbor–anyone who assists another, usually at home. Functions are often broad, ranging from being a companion to a decision-maker or health care advocate to financial manager, and much more.

The nature of the caregiver’s role is captured by this year’s theme for Older Americans Month: Connect, Create, Contribute — establishing or deepening connection, creating a supportive, caring environment and contributing to the quality of life, no matter at what stage.

A few key facts reveal how critical all caregivers are to individuals, families and the community:

  • An estimated 44 million people serve as unpaid caregivers in the United States each year.
  • Sixty-six percent of caregivers are female: the average caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who works outside the home and provides 20 hours per week of unpaid care to her mother.
  • Sixty-five percent of seniors with advanced care needs rely exclusively on family and friends for assistance. Another 30% supplement family care with paid assistance.
  • The estimated annual value of total unpaid assistance is estimated to be at least $306 billion. That’s nearly double the combined cost of home healthcare and nursing home care.

At Capital Caring, we know well the value of every caregiver. In fact, sometimes that person is the spouse or partner who is also a senior. That’s why our daily support of patients extends to families and caregivers as part of our mission to offer comfort and enhance quality of life.

Our support services are comprehensive and include practical help such as bringing everything needed to the home — a hospital bed, oxygen, medications and more.

We also understand that dealing with the advanced illness of a loved one and serving as a caregiver can be physically and emotionally challenging and stressful. We offer coaching to make sure every caregiver is comfortable in their role. Capital Caring also offers counseling, pastoral counseling and temporary respite care when the caregiver needs a break..

Once our care for advanced illness begins, a significant part of the care burden can be lifted or shared. Our care team of doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, counselors and volunteers provide physical, emotional and spiritual support allowing you to focus on your loved one.

No matter who the Older American is in your life – including you! – the month of May is a time to celebrate and appreciate their contributions. And, if you’re a caregiver, please make sure to acknowledge your own role for what a difference you make.

Celebrating Local Caregivers

On May 11, Capital Caring will celebrate local family caregivers with a free day filled with appreciation, information and advice. Free respite care is available upon request.

Hosted in partnership with AARP and Virginia Hospital Center, the Expo will feature speakers on such topics as Alzheimer’s and dementia, caring for someone with chronic pain, navigating the health care system, and advance care planning.

Expo participants include more than 35 local experts in home care, elder law, financial planning, and other caregiver services. Free massages, health screenings and refreshments will also be available. To learn more and/or register, click here.

Among the attendees we expect to see at our Caregiving Expo are volunteers who help us deliver the best care and support possible. Included in the group of those who volunteer with Capital Caring — making a commitment to connect, create and contribute — are individuals who are also “Older Americans.”

Coping with Grief During the Spring

By Sara Moore Kerai, MA, LPC, Grief Counselor, Capital Caring, Washington, D.C.

What comes to mind when you contemplate the transition from winter to spring?

Spring is often associated with rebirth, relief, new life, and a sense of hopefulness. But for those who are grieving, the spring can be a bittersweet and painful season, triggering painful reminders of “this time last year,” rather than happy anticipation.

Mother’s Day is a hallmark of spring, but for my grief counseling clients who are grieving the death of a mother, or for mothers grieving the death of a child, it is one of the most difficult holidays of the entire year.  Also, the perceived pressure to tackle spring cleaning, which might include sorting through and donating a loved one’s clothing and possessions, can add to the stress of the change of seasons.

However, springtime also provides many opportunities for self-care, which is an important component in healing from a loss.

Below are helpful tips for healing, self-care activities and information about Capital Caring’s grief support groups:

  • Participating in activities such as walking, bicycle riding, meditative hikes, putting your toes in the green grass, planting, gardening, or going to a yoga or dance class, improves the mind-body connection.
  • Research shows that focusing on activities involving our five senses and our bodies, such as paying attention to our walking steps, noticing the sun on our skin, or feeling the grass beneath our feet, helps our brains recover from stressful events.

Capital Caring grief counselors are offering several programs to support you in your grief journey this spring, including spring strolls and mindfulness walks in Arlington and Alexandria; Mother Loss Workshops in Washington. D.C.  and Largo, Maryland; and many other support groups and programs for those who are grieving the death of a loved one.

Please join us for a moment of healing and self-care.  Learn more about our grief support groups and other programs here.

 

Let’s Talk: How To Tell Your Story with the Ending You Want  

We all tell at least one story, and usually many more, that describes major life events, reflects who we are, and reveals what’s important to us. Typically, we share these with family and friends – sometimes over and over again, as they may remind us!

Yet most of us leave out a key element of our own narrative — how we hope our story will end.

 

April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day an occasion to encourage you to start the conversation that can affect how you spend your final days. It begins by learning how to share your values and preferences for advanced illness and end-of-life care. And it ends with a guide for family members, loved ones and caregivers that illustrates what you want, and how to follow your wishes.

You don’t have to be old or sick to start the conversation. In fact, the best time to talk about your preferences is before the need arises.

Having the conversation about end-of-life care

To help you get started, Capital Caring offers some valuable resources available on our website (https://www.capitalcaring.org/campaigns/advance-directives/).

The resources cover how to think about your values and preferences, how to discuss them with others and how to complete an advance care directive, a legal guide to implement your wishes.

A majority of people – according to research – strongly believe this is an issue they should deal with. However, the gap between thought and deed is wide:

  • 90% of Americans say that talking about their end-of-life care wishes is important, yet only 27% of people are actually having these conversations;
  • 60% say it is extremely important not to burden their family with such decisions, yet 56% have not communicated their end-of-life wishes;
  • 82% say it’s important to put their wishes in writing, but only 23% have actually done it.

While these are not easy discussions, having the conversation and committing your preferences to paper can make the situation easier for yourself, your family and caregivers when the time comes.

Resources you’ll need to document your care preferences

An advance directive can also comfort loved ones dealing with stress, grief and depression by knowing that they honored your last requests.

Capital Caring provides the resources you’ll need to document your care preferences, including “Five Wishes” – the country’s most popular living will – which meets the legal requirements for 42 states including Virginia and Maryland. If you live in Washington D.C., you’ll need to use this form. You can also request a printed version of the Five Wishes document.

Dr. Christopher Pile talks about the importance of Advance Care Planning

Tools and resources for our community 

Our Capital Caring team will also be out in the community in April talking about the importance of advance care planning, advance directives, end-of-life care and what you can do to make the transitions easier and more comfortable for everyone involved—patients, family members, caregivers and medical professionals. We’ll be visiting assisted living centers/senior centers, health facilities, employers, and faith communities. If you or your organization would like to learn more – either where to attend a talk or to arrange a presentation, please email: marketing@capitalcaring.org.

We know these are challenging issues, but day in and day out, Capital Caring is committed to helping you tell and end your story in just the way you want, wherever you are in your healthcare journey.

 

Coping with Grief During the Holidays

As the winter holidays approach, we are bombarded with messages that this will be a season of joy, peace, and love.

And yet for those who are grieving, any holiday can be a time of greater sadness, stress, and isolation.  Wonderful memories of happy times may bring pain and tears now, or, if the holidays have always been a difficult time, there may be guilt or regret.  While those around us may be in festive spirits, we may be reminded even more of our loved one who will not be celebrating with us.  We may lack the energy or interest to plan or attend holiday events.  There may be family conflicts related to where and how the holiday will take place.  Many questions and fears may arise, such as:

  • Who will cut the turkey?
  • What if I start to cry in the middle of dinner?
  • What if I just don’t want to celebrate this year?
  • How will I manage to just cope with getting through the day?

It is important for those who grieve to recognize limitations—we are not functioning at normal capacity and must reevaluate our priorities.  This means that we must:

  • Realize that we have physical and emotional limitations.
  • Know that there is no right or wrong way to respond.
  • Set limits with others.
  • Recognize that the absence of a loved one will be painful no matter what we do, and thus allow for the pain.
  • Remember that it is natural and appropriate to miss someone we love.

Discuss and plan ahead with family and friends.  Knowing what to expect will reduce everyone’s anxiety.

Learn about Capital Caring Support Groups here.

A Caregiver’s Journey: The Day I Became a Caregiver

Do you remember the day your identity expanded from son, daughter, spouse or friend to include “caregiver?”   Maybe it didn’t happen all at once.  Or maybe you didn’t fully realize the switch was happening till later, as you got more experience and the contours of your “caregiver era” came into focus.  It took some time, but now that Mom’s been gone for three years, I know the exact moment that my identity changed.

It was an early Spring day in early 2009.  We’re on the south shore of Long Island, New York.  Dad had passed in December (I’m not ready to talk much about that experience quite yet), and I was up from my home in Maryland to help Mom get ready to move down to an independent living apartment close to me and my sister.  Mom and Dad had sold our family house years ago and had lived in an apartment in our hometown of Rockville Centre for 20 years or so.  There was a lot that was already done.  Movers had been hired.  Boxes had been packed. Travel arrangements had been made for flying Mom down to Reagan National.

In retrospect, maybe all these tasks could be labeled “caregiving,” but that’s not how I was experiencing it right then.  Dad’s constant refrain to me during his gradual decline was “take care of your mother.”   In my mind, all I was being was a good son.

I had been there a few days, packing boxes and preparing Mom for her move.  It was now two days before Mom’s departure.  I could tell that Mom, though she put on brave face, was nervous and upset about all this change.  At 86, she was a cancer survivor, but was in pretty good shape.  She was still walking without help, still the avid reader, still the nature-lover, and still the sunny personality that made her a pleasure to be with.  I was confident that she would adjust, maybe even thrive, in her new independent living apartment.

Mom was going to miss two close friends, but most of her and Dad’s many friends had died or moved to warmer climes.  But what she was going to miss most by far was her beloved beach.   Mom grew up in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn and had never lived far from the ocean.  You could smell salt in the air in Rockville Centre.  Swimming in the ocean, sunbathing and reading her books on a lounge chair along the shoreline were her greatest passions.

We were scheduled to return her leased car to the dealership – the last big chore – the following day and she asked me if we could go for one last visit to the ocean.  For reasons I don’t remember, I was not allowed to drive her leased car, so the idea was that she would drive her car and I would follow behind her in mine.  It’s a trip she had made a thousand times.  What could go wrong?

Don’t worry.  Nothing terrible happened.  But I remember something terrible almost happened about 10 times.  Driving behind Mom on those two drives back and forth to the beach was both terrifying eye-opening. Mom’s driving skills were now at the “look straight ahead, stop at lights, then go” level.  No looking in mirrors, side or rear.   No awareness of pedestrians.   The only good thing about driving right behind Mom was that I was literally protecting her, er, rear end.   At least once I yelled “look out!” at my windshield like a teenager yelling at the movie screen during a horror movie.  Her maintaining a speed 10 miles per hour below the limit made it feel more, not less scary, as other drivers had to adjust.

Mom got her last visit to her beloved beach.  She would NEVER drive a car again.  All was well.  I had a few more gray hairs.

My mind was a whir.  How long had THIS been going on?  What else had I missed?  What did it mean for how Mom would fare living on her own?  I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but on that Spring day my identity changed.  I was no longer “just” a good son, helping out when I was needed.  I was a son-caregiver, 24/7.

My journey had begun.   Do you remember when yours began?   I’d love to hear from you.

See your comments to marketing@capitalcaring.org.