Tag Archives: healing

Love, Commitment and the Honest Life of a Caregiver

For National Family Caregivers Month this November, we’re profiling individuals who have taken on a caregiver role to support their loved ones. We interviewed Rich Reedy, who has been supporting his wife since a 2014 accident left her with an incomplete spinal cord injury that requires constant care.


Do you consider yourself a caregiver?


I absolutely do consider myself a caregiver. We are fortunate enough in our household to have many people in our circle who we consider caregivers, including a young woman, Judy, who comes in twice a day to support [my wife] Eileen; and Patrick, Bridget and Jacquelyn, our three children, who help out significantly. I serve as a caregiver coordinator, in a manner of speaking: I’m not a boss and not a commander, just a “keeper of the schedule”!

Eileen Reedy HelpHOPELive

Rich Reedy (left) with Eileen Reedy (center) and family.


Is emotional support as important as physical support when you care for someone with an injury?


In my experience, emotional support is a vital part of overall healing. If my wife is not in a good place or if one of our caregivers is unhappy, that attitude is definitely contagious. It’s important to me to try to keep people happy. We want people to support Eileen because their hearts are in it 100%, not because they feel like they NEED to be there. If their hearts are not in it, we do whatever we can to get them there, so that emotional connection is maintained.


What helps you to find relief when you are stressed or upset?

I find my own ways to relieve tension but, in all honesty, when a bad mood starts, it often has to clear on its own. Eileen continues to impress us with her commitment to therapy and progress. Seeing that progress in action is a great motivator and encourager. To me, it’s important to reinforce the good, for my own benefit and for the benefit of other caregivers. I play a role in helping others by reminding them that they are doing a great job and are making an important contribution. Just like in life itself, in caregiving it can make a big difference to be positive and to look for ways to ease the stress and the repetition, so you can continue to take on challenges day after day.


What is the best part of caring for a loved one? The most difficult part?


The best part is loving Eileen and supporting her on her healing journey. Caregiving really can change who you are. I was a man of no patience – now, I am a man of SOME patience, at least! I’ve still got a long way to go.

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The worst part is struggling to find time to unwind and clear your mind and finding ways to avoid self-criticism. My day is composed of getting up early and making good use of every spare moment in the day. I run my own business out of my house, so I’m fortunate to be able to work in between assisting Eileen and supporting the rest of the care team. By 6 p.m., I have no brain left! Sometimes I just like to take a few minutes to sit and unwind at the end of a day. I honestly struggle to remember what my life was like before I took on this role!


Which words would you use to describe caring for a loved one?


The two words I’d use to describe caregiving would be love and commitment.


Do you have any advice for other families who are learning about caregiving after injury?


First, I would advise them to lean on professional support. While Eileen was in the hospital, the staff really showed me what my life would look like, even though I didn’t realize at the time that they were preparing me for that reality! I didn’t know that it was going to be a life-changing experience that would last longer than weeks or months. Professional support like that can really help.

Eileen Reedy HelpHOPELive

Eileen with a service dog, Moose.

I’d encourage people who are about to become caregivers to take a look at caregiver resources like books and manuals. Having a guide helped me a lot – I turned to a book called Taking Care of Yourself While Providing Care. The book is written for caregivers who care for people with spinal cord injuries, but its lessons are relevant to any caregiver. Managing self-care is something that professionals and books will always emphasize; it’s as important as ever to take care of yourself when you become a caregiver, if not more important. If you’re not in a good spot, you can’t help anyone else.

My last piece of advice would be to consider accepting outside help. Our twice-per-day caregiver, Judy, has become like a part of our family, but she still has her own life and her own world outside of us. That means we can chat, talk and laugh with her and those interactions don’t overlap with the rest of our family life. It can be a really nice diversion, and that person also comes in with a “clean slate” and not a host of other worries and long-term concerns to bring to the table. She can give Eileen her full concentration, which is helpful for all of us.


We’ll be celebrating caregivers all month. Have a caregiving story to tell? Reach out to us and you could be featured in an upcoming Blog post!

Making Connections After A Spinal Cord Injury Can Change Your Life

At age 13, a spinal cord injury changed Reveca Torres’s life. She began working with HelpHOPELive to fundraise for injury-related expenses in 2008. Now the executive director of the spinal cord injury support community BACKBONES, Reveca devotes her time to helping others discover vital SCI resources and find joy and connection after injury. Here are her insights on connecting with others, fighting stigmas and learning to embrace your new life.


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Do spinal cord injuries create both physical and emotional challenges?


Definitely. Physically, your body is entirely different post-injury. You have to re-learn what your body can do. All of your internal systems are affected, from bowels and bladder to body temperature and your sense of touch. Everything is so different. It takes years to be self-aware and understand the new feelings, signals and reactions in your body.

Initially, I thought of my body as broken. Now I know that my body is still alive. It’s still working. I won’t ignore it. You have to learn to stay healthy or you risk being stuck in bed healing from issues and other injuries.


What can you learn through connecting with peers?


I think it’s really important to get to know other people with spinal cord injuries so you can begin to understand how they handle their daily lives. Connection is a great way to learn from others and discover some self-acceptance, too. Getting comfortable with your situation is one of the biggest hurdles when you are first injured. You need to see that others in your situation are making it work.

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Connect with others with SCI and learn how they make it work.

Knowing that someone else understands exactly what you’re going through is powerful. It’s wonderful to not have to explain yourself or what you’re feeling. You can talk, ask questions and learn from each other. There’s a lot of relief knowing that someone else knows what it’s like to be you. I hear that when I talk to people on the phone: the conversation starts with a lot of questions, nerves and anticipation. By the end of the call, there’s a sound of relief in the caller’s voice.


What helped you to make a breakthrough after injury?


I didn’t have a lot of friends with injuries after I was injured at 13. I had to learn how to conquer a lot of physical challenges on my own. Acceptance was a big part of that – I was coping with SCI AND being a teen! At college, I met other people with injuries who were playing sports, dating and traveling. That community gave me the confidence to try new things.

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Moving away from home helped Reveca find her independence.

I had a lot of support from family and friends and they were behind me all the way after I was injured, but ultimately they couldn’t show me how to build a life for myself. I had to see other people make it happen to get there myself. Moving away from home made a big difference for me. Going away to college was intimidating, but when I got there, other people would approach me and start conversations and we’d become friends. Give yourself those opportunities, whether that means putting yourself out there or moving to an area that gives you access to a stronger SCI community.


Is it tough to make connections if you are nervous or naturally shy?


It is always intimidating at first to connect with others or ask questions. Those physical and emotional challenges after injury can make you feel like you need someone else to advocate for you. Someone close to me gave me a really good piece of advice: become your own advocate. Family members provide as much as they can for someone they love and they want you to get better and get to a good emotional place, but that support can hinder your growth.


Do you have to embrace the “disabled” label to be a part of the SCI community?


Initially, I didn’t want to hang out with other people who used wheelchairs. I didn’t want to identify as “disabled” – I wanted to believe I was still the same person. I was the same person in some ways, but I was also very different after injury, and I had to learn to embrace that. Being part of the disability community doesn’t stop you from participating in the able-bodied world. You can have both!

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“There shouldn’t be a line between ‘us’ and ‘them.'”

Being injured is not something any of us asked for or want to be a part of, but the SCI community is a great group of people. We have all gone through something life-changing and we have learned how to adapt. These communities are essential not just for people who are injured but for their friends and family members as well. Our events are open to people with and without disabilities. There shouldn’t be a line between “us” and “them.” We are all human, and we can all relate to one another on different levels.


 

BACKBONES splash wheelchair beach disability spinal cord injury Reveca Torres


To connect with other people with spinal cord injuries, visit BACKBONES online. If you need help covering uninsured injury-related expenses, reach out to us.