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Family Caregiver Support Group resumes meetings

Walla Walla Union-Bulletin - 11/28/2023

Nov. 23—Providing care for a family member with dementia or Alzheimer's can take a toll on a person both mentally and physically — this is what inspired the late Rita Bush to start the Family Caregiver Support Group in College Place about 20 years ago.

The support group is now back up and running with a new facilitator after a two-year hiatus caused by the pandemic.

Pat Elmenhurst, who took over the program about nine years ago, recently handed it off to Linda Ray, a retired teacher and author of "The Fading Yellow Brick Road: One 'Sandwich Generation' Journey to the End of Dementia."

"Even just the idea of a community is a huge support because caregiving is so isolating," Ray said. "And it's just not a topic you can talk about — you don't really want to. You can't put a lot of things into words, and the loss is daily."

Ray and Elmenhurst both cared for loved ones with dementia in the past and said they understand how draining it is for people.

"You're giving and giving and they're taking and taking, and you are just so exhausted, and your life diminishes and shrinks and gets smaller and smaller," Ray said. "Even if you're out and about, you're not thinking about your life anymore because it's just exhausting. You want to forget it, but you can't."

Ray leads the support group sessions, which started back up just a few weeks ago. The meetings take place twice a month at the SonBridge Center, 1200 SE 12th St. in College Place. Meetings are on the second and fourth Thursday of each month from 10 to 11 a.m.

Ray and Elmenhurst said one of the biggest things they emphasize to caregivers is the importance of "self-nurturing."

"If you don't nurture your spirit, you will shrivel up and die," Elmenhurst said. "I'm not trying to paint a bleak picture, but a caregiver is basically a servant that lays down their life for somebody else."

Elmenhurst said being a caregiver comes with a lot of unnecessary guilt and that it's something most people will have to face at some point during their lifetime.

"You either are a caregiver, have a caregiver or will be a caregiver," she said.

Ray said the support group is a good way for caregivers, who are often isolated and don't have much of a life outside of the person they care for, to find a community and get the validation they need.

"There's no place for guilt," Ray said. "The No. 1 thing is that you were there. Whether you're just monitoring their care at a facility, visiting them in their home or living with them, you're there."

Anyone with questions about the support group can contact Ray at 509-629-0339.

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