When I was asked to write about the impact of the Mindful Caregiver Education (MCE) program I didn’t hesitate to say “yes” because my experience was so positive. MCE has expanded my capacity to survive and navigate through this everchanging, and sometimes treacherous world of family caregiving.
I am a native San Franciscan and have resided in the SF Bay Area for most of my life. I am the elder of two daughters and have been blessed to be happily married for over thirty years. Most of my professional experience has been in human resources and organizational development. Currently I am a lecturer at a local college. Additionally, over the past several years, I have been learning about providing spiritual care, primarily in hospital settings, through several clinical pastoral education (CPE) programs. These days, the primary focus of my time and energy has been with my family. Through my caregiving experience, which began about 2.5 years ago following the massive stroke my father suffered, I am only just now able to step back, take a breath and fully appreciate this new “world” that I now inhabit.
Last year I learned about the Mindful Caregiver Education program. Until then, I hadn’t even identified as a family caregiver. My healing began from the moment I began the course. Once the session began it was clear that in addition to being wise and highly skilled, the facilitators’ personal family caregiving experiences informed their way of being throughout the program. Their ability to be fully present with each participant was both powerful and rejuvenating. One day after the course I was driving my father to an appointment and he was talking about a sad time in his life. I became aware of my urge to “help him” remember happier times. I realized that I was trying to avoid feeling pain. However, in doing so I would have inadvertently shut him down thereby not provide him the opportunity to grieve and perhaps come to a place of acceptance and reconciliation with his past life experiences. I believe that MCE helped to increase my self-awareness and supported an immediate shift in my behavior. For me this was a profound moment. I hope that my father was able to feel both valued and validated.
Volunteering at Zen Hospice Project has had a profound influence on my life. I heard about Zen Hospice through word of mouth and had been interested in applying for several years. I finally did it and have never regretted it. The training I received was thorough and prepared me to sit with someone as they near the end of their life. Although I love my work as a registered nurse, my role often does not allow me to spend as much time with patients as I would like to. As a volunteer I am able to simply be present for another. I am a San Francisco native and father of three. I have been a Zen Hospice volunteer for one year. I serve on Wednesday mornings at Laguna Honda Hospital. I have met wonderful people at Zen Hospice and I am part of a wonderful community. Volunteering brings joy to my life and I always receive much more than I give.
Born in New York City, Tessa Koning-Martinez has lived in the Bay Area since the late 1970’s and calls San Francisco home. Now that her mother, Betita, has settled into South Three at Laguna Honda Hospital, Tessa has been able to resume her career as a teaching artist and educator at The Academy, a bilingual high school.
Betita was a celebrated Chicana feminist, community organizer, activist, author and educator and has an exemplary circle of friends and comrades. They have been a tremendous help with advice and care as Betita’s vascular dementia has progressed over the past twelve years, but as she has become frail, they are no longer able fulfill her day to day needs. Tessa is an only child, as is her mother, and they have no immediate family.
Tessa says her experience of the Zen Hospice Project volunteers is like they are family. She fondly recalls volunteers who have shared time with her and her mother, offering intimacy, understanding, and support as lifelong friends might not be able to do. She notes the openheartedness of the volunteers, and the sense of being literally and figuratively embraced by them. “Their role is priceless,” she says with emotion, “and totally unique in a palliative care setting.” Tessa is comforted knowing that volunteers are with Betita when she can’t be, serving in a capacity that friends no longer can. She expresses deep gratitude that ZHP volunteers are present with both of them just as they are on any given day.
When I am not facilitating Mindful Caregiver Education programs at Zen HospiceProject, I work at a tech company where my focus is on operational support, crossfunctional communication, and project management. In my spare time, I enjoywriting and bathing in the beauty of nature. I live near the ocean, so I try to getout there as much as possible.
I first joined the ZHP community as a volunteer caregiver serving for 7 years, andthen I began facilitating MCE two and a half years ago. My facilitator role in theMCE program has had an immense impact on who I am and how I show up in the world. By delving deeper into thepractice and exploration of mindful caregiving, I am given the opportunity to integrate these practices into myfacilitation, my bedside care, and in other activities of my life. Although MCE is typically focused on caregiving in thecontext of serious illness, the concepts and techniques have equipped me with tools to be present and compassionatein the face of all life’s challenges. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to practice with ZHP in this way, as it is aninvaluable gift to be able to share and explore these practices with course participants. As someone who has been acaregiver for a family member, I understand how isolating and confusing the role can be. It is an honor to be able tomeet people in this process and provide a level of support that I know is so necessary to a caregiver’s health andwellbeing. In the MCE courses, I observe a sense of being held and relief among the participants. In the westernmedical world, death and loss is treated as something we do not talk about and many of our participants are excitedand grateful to have a safe space created for them to explore this subject with safety and without judgment. For familycaregivers in particular this is invaluable, as they are not only learning more tools to help them navigate their role, butthey also have the opportunity to step into an intentional community where their experience is validated, and they canbe truly seen.