In Longmont and Boulder, we are fortunate to have two groups of peer counselor volunteers who are older adults providing free counseling for other older adults. Volunteers provide individual counseling as well as facilitation for support groups. In Longmont this service is also available for caregivers of older adults regardless of the caregiver’s age. All peer counselors receive training and ongoing supervision in basic counseling skills so that they may serve seniors struggling with grief, family problems, life transitions, and more.
Caregiving can be a positive experience and can also involve stress, a sense of loss as roles change, and the range of emotions from anxiety to sadness to anger. One of our peer counselors in Longmont, Sharon, is willing to share how caregiving and reaching out for support impacted her life. Sharon was married to Jerry for 50 years and became his sole caregiver. After some time, Sharon struggled with the caregiving role: she felt isolated in coping with the loss of the man she knew and loved to the difficulties of dementia, and her husband was very dependent. However, Sharon said, “I thought I was Wonder Woman” and could do anything and everything by herself. This went on until a friend kindly pointed out that Sharon really could not do it all alone, and Sharon then reached out for support. She attended a caregiver support group led by peer counselors, took the Savvy Caregiver class, attended a Caregivers Symposium, leaned on her friends, and later sought peer counseling for individual support as well. Her husband struggled with anxiety when she left to access these supports, so she found a day program for him to attend. Sharon found the caregiver support group incredibly beneficial. She always felt that other caregivers “had my back,” and she was able to leave the group truly feeling better each time she attended.
After Jerry died, Sharon found that she had a hole in her heart. She accessed grief support from our peer counselors. Sharon believes it is important for people to have permission to grieve for as long as they need and to “have a meltdown sometimes.” She understands that the grief one feels as a caregiver doesn’t end when a loved one passes away, and new grief gets piled on top. She appreciated her peer counselor and said, “I could tell her anything and she would just listen and be supportive.” After some months of finding her life on the other side of caregiving and grief, Sharon decided she would like to become a peer counselor herself. She says, “It kind of saved my life.” She enjoys working with caregivers, as it feels good to know she can truly help them with her understanding from her own life experiences. Sharon’s message to caregivers it this: “You’ll surprise yourself. You’re much stronger than you think you are,” and life does go on after caregiving.
For peer counseling referrals in Longmont, call 303-651-8414; for peer counseling in Boulder, call 303-441-4388.
Brandy Queen is a Licensed Professional Counselor with Longmont Senior Service where she co-facilitates caregiver support groups, provides one-on-one caregiver consultations and family meetings, oversees the Lunch Bunch (a dementia-friendly socialization program), and coordinates classes on caregiving topics.