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Memory Cafe – Who Are You?

Kate's Memory Cafe, dancing to live music.

Who Are You? 

By Katie Donovan

“There are four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers; those who currently are caregivers; those who will be caregivers; and those who will need caregivers.”  Rosalyn Carter, former First Lady.

These words from Rosalyn Carter made me reflect on the service that I provide regularly as the volunteer coordinator via Kate’s Memory Café for Helping Hands Respite Care.  It is quite amazing to me that even in the thick of things, there are many individuals who do not self-identify as a caregiver.  I am gob-smacked at the idea that so many of these participants who are experiencing a life-turned-upside-down in service to their loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, seem so oblivious to the toll this vital and loving service may be waging on them personally.  There is a numbness that creeps in and steals away the joy in simple things like laughter among friends, the pleasure in a nice meal shared, or the satisfaction and balance that comes from exercising self-care in things large and small.  Over time that numbness turns into a bone tiredness which breeds a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.  And, that can’t be good for the caregiver or the one in their care.

Katie Donovan, Faciliator of Kate's Memory Cafe
Katie Donovan, Facilitator of Kate’s Memory Cafe

Purpose of the Memory Cafe

After 2plus years of facilitating this monthly event, I recently took the opportunity to ask those in attendance why they thought we were gathered together for Kate’s Memory Café.  The answers were obvious and sometimes sweet…but not exactly what I was listening for.  My commitment to the Memory Café has been to help the primary caregivers in the group whether they were a spouse, significant other, child to an aging parent, a sibling, a grandchild, a neighbor, or best friend…to recognize the critical importance of claiming respite for themselves and for their loved one.

What I have learned is that if someone does not self-identify as a caregiver it is a real uphill battle to help them understand how important respite truly is for them.  A few years ago, after sharing some stories about the work of Helping Hands Respite Care to a group of city employees, an Emergency Responder shared his personal on-the-job experience with those people in the community considered to be medically vulnerable.  He said he and all his co-workers know the addresses of all of the vulnerable households in the city.  He confessed his great surprise that upon being called out to respond to those vulnerable households…50 percent of the time it was not the person with a disability needing help!  It was the caregiver needing the emergency medical response.

What that tells me is that these caregivers had worn themselves out to the point of illness and vulnerability. My despair comes from knowing that there are more people out there in our community who need to learn more about respite care and need to be emboldened to claim some for themselves ….because it will be good for the one they are caring for and for themselves.

Kate’s Memory Café is a free service to the community.  It is offered to the public FREE of Charge through the generosity of sponsors in our community like AF Group and McClaren Greater Lansing. Kate’s Memory Café is for any care couple.  The Memory Café convenes on the second Sunday of the month at the offices of Helping Hands Respite Care where the room that normally holds the Adult Day Services Program operates Monday thru Friday is transformed into a café with table clothes, decorations, live music, snacks, a meal, and fun activities planned, and most important an informational break for the caregivers in the group.

Caregivers are encouraged to invite other people in their circle who might become part of their natural support system of respite care providers.  Those that wish to attend are asked to RSVP so that food and activities can be planned accordingly.

To learn more or to RSVP email or call 517-242-7355. In addition to finding caregivers to serve, we are always looking for volunteers to help create the café.  We need entertainers willing to share for a minimum of 30 minutes of music; volunteers willing to help set up, clean-up, engage with individuals with memory loss, and join us for the meal.