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I have always said that having a roomful of 400 family caregivers and a celebrity who has gone through family caregiving means you actually have 401 family caregivers in the room. This statement has hardly ever rung more true than last week at our eighth annual New Haven Fearless Caregiver Conference.  Our keynote speaker was Patricia Richardson, who played Jill Taylor in the television program Home Improvements and many other television, film and stage roles. 

Pat came in from New York as her own home in Connecticut had lost power days earlier in the massive snow storm that hit the state so hard.  We were grateful that the weather was absolutely perfect the day of the event. She and her puppy, Olive, left New York early to be with us for as much of the day as possible. Pat was a little concerned that we had her listed as keynote speaker since she really would rather interact with her fellow caregivers than give a speech.  I told her that we call the events the no speechifying and no PowerPoint zone, for which she was grateful. 

Once Pat stood up to talk, her conversation was personal and interactive—talking about her challenges as caregiver to a strong-willed dad, helping her sister through the sudden death of her brother-in-law, and the need to standardize the laws for “taking away driver’s licenses” when necessary.  WPatricia Richardson at the New Haven Fearless Caregiver Conferencehat really impressed me was when she took all questions asked of her and shared advice with the family caregivers in the room. When Pat spoke of the guilt associated with the possibility of long-term care placement for her dad, a caregiver in the room spoke of her own guilt because she believed it would be better for her entire family that her own dad live in an appropriate long-term care facility.

As national spokesperson for CUREPSP, an organization for those living with the disease that claimed her dad’s life, Pat is a care advocate. But at the event, she was simply one of the caregivers who were sharing stories and learning from one another. In fact, as a caregiver said of the day, “Hey, this is like a big support group!” Exactly right. 


Gary Barg

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