Dana is no stranger to tough situations. As a pediatric hospice and palliative care social worker, she serves families who lose children, guiding them along the farewell journey. She suffered a miscarriage and later welcomed and treasured a medically-fragile micro preemie who needed to be isolated for the first year of his life. Abandoned by her son’s father, she shouldered the burden of a single working mother. The global pandemic multiplied Dana’s load to the breaking point until an unexpected experience opened the door into a world of healing that she didn’t know she needed.
To compensate for the child support her ex stopped paying, Dana had to take on more responsibility at work. Her caseload included families across multiple counties, requiring extensive travel. Apart from the long days, the time she spent with families was also emotionally draining. At one time, eight of her families had children in the hospital at the same time, and she rushed from floor to floor to provide encouragement and comfort to each one.
Because of the pandemic Dana’s son, now 15 and diagnosed with autism, had to attend school virtually, and she worried about how it impacted him. The structure that his normal school routine gave him was ripped away, and his mental and physical health began to suffer because of the neurological sensitivity that autism brings. All of this weighed heavily on Dana. “I’m responsible for everything. It’s all me. If I can’t do it, then what’s going to happen?” She continued to worry about how the pandemic was affecting her son, especially when her friend’s son, the same age as her own, committed suicide. “My son was facing the same issues as my friend’s son, and it terrified me.”
An Unforeseen Blessing
As a member of a pediatric palliative care coalition, Dana received an email promoting an online class, Powerful Tools for Caregivers. Dana thought the course information would be useful to her families, not to herself. “I never saw myself as a caregiver,” she explains. “I’m a mom, and it’s my job to take care of my son. And as a social worker, it’s my job to take care of families. This is just my world.”
One of the women in the virtual seminar had a son with autism and when the woman expressed her feelings to the group, Dana realized that she felt the same things. “It was a catalyst. It brought an awareness to me that I never had before. I didn’t have time to stop and think. I had to take care of my son and my families. I just had to keep going.”
Dana was surprised at how easily the Caregiving Counselors and other class members welcomed her, and by the end of the six-week workshop, she had found an unexpected support system. “When you find a group that is so authentically caring showing you how to care for yourself in a safe environment it changes everything. ”
She also found a place where caregivers can relax and speak their own language with one another, sharing tips on things that are part of their everyday lives. “Someone can talk about a situation that would unsettle others, but we all laugh about it because we understand. You can laugh and cry in the same session and nobody thinks it’s odd.”
She was surprised and delighted when a Caregiver Recipe™ Kit arrived on her doorstep with a journal, essential oils, a breathing exercise, and more to remind caregivers that self-care is critical. “How sweet is that?” Dana asks. “We caregivers never think of getting things for ourselves. Hope Grows really understands, and they bless you with these gifts, so you don’t forget.”
In her profession, Dana joins families in the darkest hours of their lives and knows that every family losing a loved one has a choice to make. “There’s despair, and there’s hope,” Dana says. “When you choose despair, you let go of hope. Instead, you embrace depression and eventually your spirit just shrivels up. When you choose hope, you open yourself to healing.”
Dana is thankful that Hope Grows provides the people, programs, and place where caregivers can follow the path of healing. “They provide the soil and the fertilizer and the watering for you to grow and help the people you are taking care of.”