Friday, June 3, 2011

VOICES of the VILLAGE: Meet Sharon Brothers

By Cara Moore, Caregiver Village investigative reporter

I’m so pleased to be able to introduce you to Sharon Brothers in this “Voices of the Village” segment. Interviewing Sharon was a bit like interviewing myself as we have so much in common!

Sharon is a passionate advocate for family caregivers, so I asked her, “How did you become so involved in family caregiver issues?”

“It all started with a phone call,” says Sharon. “I know a lot of other family caregivers can relate. One minute your life is filled to the max with kids, work, friends, and just the ordinary stuff of living. The next minute – out of the blue – the phone rings.”

I’ll let Sharon take her story from here. 

I was sitting in front of the neighborhood ballet studio waiting for my daughter’s class to finish. I had rushed out of the house to get there in time…I have a bit of a reputation for being the mom who keeps her daughters waiting for their ride…so this time I was going to be on time!

As usual, I was half-way through a number of projects at home – dinner on the stove, mail all over the counter, clothes fresh from the dryer - and just left everything where it was. I was only going to be gone a minute.

And then my cell phone rang. It was my mother’s cell phone number, so I answered it, expecting some news about my sister, an update from her doctor’s visit or just a general, chatty ‘hello.’

But it was not my mother’s voice. It was a stranger’s voice, who started out by identifying himself as a paramedic. He said, "I’m taking your mother to the trauma center."

"What happened? Where’s my dad?" I asked.

"Your dad was taken to the rural hospital close to the accident site," he replied. "I can’t tell you anything else but you can call the hospital directly."

I’ll bet you know that feeling of having your world shift significantly in an instant. Somehow I sensed that my own world would never be the same after that moment, but I didn’t know exactly how. My routine, my chores, my daily order of life was off-kilter. I didn’t know what to do or how to do this, so I did what I knew: I started driving.

The trauma center in my city was about 40 minutes away. During that drive, my cell phone rang twice with calls from the hospital social worker, urging me to hurry; suggesting that I not come alone. She would give me no additional details; the implications were clear: it would not be good news.

As I parked in front of the hospital I had the sensation that this was as far as I could go on auto-pilot. From here, I’d need information or help to navigate the next steps. I felt shaken to my bones, as much with the unknown as from the fear of what was to come. I sat, frozen in my car, while my young daughter asked, “What can I do, mom?” I could only look at her with a frozen look, knowing that I was failing at that very moment in my job as a mom: to shield her from the worst life had to offer. I knew that we would soon see the worst, up close and very, very personal.

Minutes passed. I decided that, rather than face what I believed I’d find inside the hospital, I should find out about my dad. He must have been only slightly injured to have been taken to a small rural hospital.

Three disconnected, badly transferred calls later, I was speaking with a physician. He began, “We did everything we could for him….” and ended with “we couldn’t save him.” I never really heard the words that came between.

My protective mom instinct left in that moment and I wailed long and loud. I had convinced myself that this would be the good news – what could possibly be worse? My daughter grabbed my cell phone out of my hands, dialed my husband, and said into the phone in a shaken, anguished voice, “Dad, you’ve got to come NOW. Mom needs you NOW.”

I sat, frozen in the car until my husband arrived. We entered the hospital together, and began a journey that continued late into the night, and for several years to come. I became, in that instant, a family caregiver.

I don’t know about you, but I get chills listening to Sharon’s story. It seems to me she captures the essence of what it means to have your life turned upside down by an event that turns you from parent, boss, employee and friend into a new life definition of being a caregiver.

I asked Sharon for a quick update on what has happened since that night. 

“A lot has happened. I learned that no matter how long I’d been involved on the professional side of caregiving, when my own family was involved the needs I faced were exactly the same as every other family caregiver. I learned to navigate my way through acute care, long-term care and rehab. Sometimes, I learned to just be quiet and be patient – not in my nature! 

“Sometimes, I learned to strongly advocate for my mother, who survived and, within a year was able to walk and live independently – against all predictions of everyone who cared for her in those early days following the accident. 

“And one week ago, my mother, five years after the accident that took the life of my dad, married a man with whom she’s passionately in love. The only negative part of this story is that they are so in love that it feels like being around teenagers – and it’s my MOM!”

Now I know where Sharon gets the passion and the intensity she brings to the Caregiver Village development team. She’s walked in the shoes of the family caregiver – and she’s helping build a place where we can connect, learn, share and grow as we face similar challenges together.

Sharon Brothers is the Vice President and Content Specialist for Caregiver Village. She has a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of British Columbia and has dedicated her career to helping create programs and services that meet the needs of the aging and those that care for them. Find Sharon in Caregiver Village on the web or on the Caregiver Village Facebook page.

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