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FROM THE EDITOR'S PEN / The Philadelphia Experiment / Editorial List

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Gary Barg
The Philadelphia Experiment

In thinking back over these past 20 years since we started our journey of caregiver support with Today's Caregiver magazine, and the Fearless Caregiver Conferences, I realize that one of the most important parts of any journey is the folks you meet along the way. Looking in our diary, I see the following note regarding this time 20 years ago.

January 1995 - I visited my first healthcare event—a golf tournament hosted by the local Alzheimer’s non-profit agency. I was ready for blank stares and an armed escort off the course, but rather found a group of dedicated professionals who grasped the concept of the magazine immediately. As a matter of fact, I think that Elaine Schumacher of Miami Jewish Home and Hospital introduced me to every single person at the event.

A nice moment in time, but it reminds me of how many people I met then that are still important to me and my family to this day. All without ever losing the beaming smile she always shared with her clients and their family members.

Or Monica Dunkley, who was the administrator at Gramp’s Adult Day Care Center. She took my mom under her wing and cared for her as much as she did Gramp. Monica also opened my eyes to the hard work that is being done by dedicated care professionals while being family caregivers themselves. During the day, Monica would be a loving caregiver to 35 clients living with Alzheimer’s, and at night, she cared for two loved ones of her own. All without ever losing the smile on her face. 

Or the many other care professionals and fellow caregivers from those days who are still friends today. This is one more reason that isolation is such an insidious problem for family caregivers. You lose the wisdom that is available to you and miss out on meeting some pretty extraordinary folks.

One of the great joys of traveling the country hosting the Fearless Caregiver Conferences is to see caregivers make connections during these events and then tell us all they have accomplished together when we return the next year. One of my favorite examples of this happening is an event we held in Philadelphia a few years ago with the indomitable Della Reese.

Late in the day, a caregiver who had sat silently for most of the event, raised her hand to speak. As she stood, she told us that her mother was in the hospital getting prepped for surgery, but she knew that being with us was too important for her own well-being to miss. She went on to say that she was the sole informal caregiver for six of her senior neighbors, and that she had suffered two heart attacks in the past two years as well as out of control blood pressure. As I hugged her, the audience took turns giving her advice on caring for herself. A caregiver from across the room stood up and said, “I live in your neighborhood and from now on, you’re not alone.” Tears flowed from every eye in the room. At the next year’s conference, I recognized these two caregivers, who had become fast friends, sitting next to each other at a table. Each one spoke in turn about their accomplishments caring for their shared neighborhood over the past twelve months. 

Now, that’s about as good as it gets.

Gary Barg

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