Families encouraged to have caregiving discussions

Conclusion of a two-part story

Carlton Garner had no prior experience with being a caregiver, but he learned quickly on the fly as he, his wife, and other family members began taking care of his elderly mother. As he has learned, caring for a loved one can include everything from simple everyday tasks to providing round-the-clock care and can be very time-consuming.

(l-r) Carlton Garner, Marie Garner, Finley Heard
(l-r) Carlton Garner, Marie Garner, Finley Heard

“I have to understand that she is not the same person. I’m happy to have her here,” said Garner of his mother Marie Garner, who is suffering from memory loss. The Garner family — Carlton, his spouse Coral, and his cousin Finley Heard, spoke on stage during KMOJ’s April 23 “Community Conversation” at Capri Theatre in North Minneapolis while Marie sat in the front row. Her son later talked further with the MSR.

Garner said he wants to take care of his mother as long as he is able, but he admitted that taking of his mom “is intense” as both he and his wife work full time. They have a personal care person come in to help when they aren’t available.

“She’s at a point in her disease that you can’t leave her by herself,” he explained. “It’s more than a full-time job. You have to constantly be engaged, to give instructions, to help her do things that you take for granted.”

Divada Wilson of North Minneapolis, who also attended the KMOJ event, said she wanted to learn more about hospice and available choices for the elderly. Her father had health issues and was currently living in a nursing home.

“He’s not ready to die, and they say he doesn’t qualify for hospice,” she told the MSR afterwards. “His organs are fine and he’s not brain dead,” but she was concerned that the nursing home was not fully meeting her father’s needs because of inadequate staffing.

Caregivers are “the service of life,” noted Volunteers of America Family Memory Care Consultant Dorthea Harris. “It’s a full-time responsibility.”

Being a caregiver means being an advocate as well, noted Venoreen Boatswain-Browne, whose husband was then living in an assisted living facility due to his Alzheimer’s disease. “Your issues as a caregiver do not stop when you put someone in a home. You [must] keep them on their toes. They are there to service you,” Boatswain-Browne pointed out.

Garner said he appreciated others, such as members of his church, friends, and others who “help me mentally keep grounded…to provide some respite” for him as he cared for his mom. He urged that more community members become aware of what’s important for a caregiver.

“Most people think that the African American community takes care of their own. It’s true, but at the same time there still needs to be something available if we choose to go a different route,” said Garner. “I’m not saying that I would, but those are the kinds of things needed to help the caregiver.”

Vivian Anugwom, a LifeCourse community health coordinator in charge of making sure programs are culturally specific, pointed out, “We want people to know that if they are experiencing a serious illness or they are taking care of someone with a serious illness, they should be empowered to ask for support and be empowered to ensure that the healthcare system is tending to what matters most to them. It’s not just the physical health, but their spiritual health, mental health and financial health” as well.

KMOJ Morning Show Co-Host Freddie Bell advised that families should have caregiving discussions before it is needed. “It’s important to have these kinds of important conversations early while everybody is thinking clearly, and we can talk about it and understand what they want.”


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.