We sat with Carol Bradley Bursack, Author of Minding Our Elders and discussed her experience as a caregiver. She tells us about her portable support group for caregivers and how it evolved over time. She shares her story and the stories of others she came across over the years.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background. (Where did you grow up, what did you want to be in life, where did you go to school, etc.)
A: I grew up in Fargo, ND which is divided from Moorhead, MN by the Red River of the North. I’ve lived in Europe, Georgia and Colorado but kept coming back to Fargo. As a child my favorite activities were reading and writing so a degree in English literature with a minor in humanities was a must. I still relax by reading. I’m one of those people who feels panic if I don’t have something to read.
Q: What has inspired you to write about elder care?
A: While I always wanted to be a writer, I thought I’d write fiction. My regular work was done in various types of libraries. However, after two decades of family caregiving for a total of seven elders, I was at a point where I needed to get my story down on paper. That’s always been how I best express myself. When I was looking for a publisher for Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories, I was told that they loved the book but people weren’t interested in that topic. Apparently, I was just a bit ahead of my time. Since then, the topic has exploded and a new career has gradually developed out of that explosion.
Q: How did you come up with the idea to create a portable support group?
A: When I began with my caregiving there were few support options available. It simply wasn’t something people talked about. You did what you did. As the years went by, I met other caregivers and heard their stories. That’s when I knew that along with my own stories I needed to write theirs. So Minding Our Elders evolved, as books often do. It became a portable support group in order to fill a need.
Q: What kind of support does your book offer to caregivers?
A: Minding Our Elders offers support by letting others know that they aren’t alone. When people read the self-contained stories they see themselves. When they read about the dark thoughts of one of the caregivers, the exhaustion of another and the sibling issues of yet another they find that their story is being told. Some people grab on to one particular story and read it daily as a kind of meditation. It gives them comfort to know that they are not alone in their feelings.
Q: What other advice would you give other caregivers?
A: Now people can find support groups on the Internet as well as in their communities. There are websites such as my own at www.mindingourelders.com that can offer information, advice, encouragement, and emotional support. Since family caregivers rarely go into providing care knowing how long and difficult the journey may be, it’s a continual learning experience. I advise people to seek out knowledge and share what they’ve learned from others.
Caregivers know what other caregivers are going through so support coming from them is crucial. Naturally, there are wonderful disease specific organizations that we can’t do without. So become educated as your needs expand. Look for professional help if your situation becomes too difficult. But remember that your peer group is other caregivers and they know in their heart what you are feeling, so seek out other caregivers to laugh, to cry, to vent and to celebrate.
Q: What advice would you give a caregiver who feels trapped caring for a loved one who is experiencing burnout?
A: I’ve written many articles on caregivers who are feeling trapped or burned out. I tell them that we all need to get away from our responsibilities now and then. I also tell them that to most of us that sounds like an impossible dream. The best many of us can do is to try to find some respite care, whether that is in-home care, adult day care for our loved one or nursing home care. You can’t help your loved one(s) if your own health breaks down. Remember that even if you hire outside help of some kind, you are still a caregiver. You need to do what you can to survive the physical and emotional turmoil caregiving involves, and most often that means respite care of some kind. Again, I say to go to support groups or sign up with one online.
Q: What other publications have you written?
A: I’ve written over two thousand articles as well as a weekly newspaper column that has run for ten years. Most of the articles and the most recent columns are available online. They are easy to find though my blog. Unfortunately, these articles are not for sale as the companies that I write for own them.
Q: Where can people go to purchase Minding Our Elders?
“I hold onto your book as a life preserver and am reading it slowly on purpose…I don’t want it to end.” Craig William Dayton, Film Composer