Never underestimate the power of a listening ear. Whether you care for an aging parent, or support a parent who is caring for a spouse , you may need someone to hear you out.
"The greatest gift you can do for a caregiver is to listen to them," says Jane W. Barton, educator and consultant on aging issues.
Last spring our church, Seattle First Free Methodist Church, began a caregiver support group, which aims to bring listening to the fore. I have the privilege of leading it. The group is composed of a handful of women who care for a loved one. For an hour or so, once a month, they become "sisters."
They tell their stories and catch up on their latest adventures in caregiving. They speak of grappling with the grim realities of Parkinson's, cancer and dementia. Group members offer advice, but only if requested. Most important, these heroines share laughter and tears, serving as each other's cheerleaders.
Because we're part of a church, we pray aloud for each other. That's my favorite part.
My job is easy. I keep order, making sure that someone doesn't monopolize. That really doesn't happen. I also remind everyone, including myself, of the importance of confidentiality.
Caregiver support groups are also found in senior centers, at home care agencies and at hospitals. Wherever they are, you'll find smiles and laughter, and yes, some tears. Listening makes the heart grow lighter.