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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Friday Health Focus: 2006 Caregiver Of The Year

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Thursday, May 04, 2006

Rita Chapman and her daughter Susan Stanton
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North Adams - There are over 35 million unpaid caregivers currently providing care to friends, neighbors or family members; nine people who deliver uncompensated care locally were named Horizon "Caregivers of the Year" during a May 4 ceremony held at the Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice of Northern Berkshire headquarters on Curran Highway.

Bet You Can't Choose Just One

Nominees Marina Bacher,Cecile Bombardier, Judy Bombardier, Priscilla Brayman, Maralyn Brown, Frank R. Bushika, Rita Chapman, Debbie Johnson, and Phillip Remillard were jointly named to the honor because the level of devotion and caregiving in each situation was enormous and "made it impossible to choose one," said Northern Berkshire Healthcare CEO and president Richard Palmisano II during the event.

The honorees who were present each received a $25 gift certificate to Steeples restaurant, a live rose and a chocolate rose. The roses -both the edible and the fragrant- were presented to each nominee by 2005 Community Caregiver of the Year Shirley Jean Lee.

Lee was the first-ever award winner selected by Horizon committee members.

Surprised and Honored

Brayman, who lives in Florida, was both nominator and nominee; she nominated Maralyn Brown, who also lives in Florida, because of Brown's commitment to delivering care to a cousin. She was surprised to learn that she herself had been nominated by the Rev. Roy C. Burdick, she said. Burdick cited Brayman's untiring devotion and care for her husband, even during times when Brayman herself faced grave medical issues.


Maralyn Brown and Phyllis Brayman
"I had no idea I'd been nominated," Brayman said prior to the award announcement. "I nominated Maralyn because she takes wonderful care of her cousin. She takes care of the house, she takes [her cousin] to all her doctor appointments, and she does a wonderful job at church. But then I got two things in the mail, one inviting me to the ceremony because I nominated Maralyn and one telling me that I was nominated. I was so surprised. I never expected to be nominated."

Cecile Bombardier of Clarksburg appeared humbled by her nomination.

"I feel honored," she said before learning that she was among the caregivers of the year. "I never thought that something like this would happen to me."

Her nomination, submitted by Janet McClelland and Denise Forkey, described why Bombardier deserved the honor:"Cecile cared for her husband completely, including [much delicate personal care]. She slept on a cot at his bedside for months so that he 'wouldn't wake up and be afraid.' Her compassion for both her husband and for the staff assisting her at this difficult time knew no bounds."

"Selfless Devotion"

Beth Hinkley shared the kindness and devotion of Bacher with committee members via this nomination: "[She] has risen to the many challenges of caregiving for her spouse for many years. She has faced personal challenges concerning her health and well-being, simultaneously navigating the healthcare realm for her husband. She very generously shares her experiences honestly and poignantly in her desire to both seek support and give her best to others."

Judy Bombardier of Williamstown works at a full-time job, is married, and tackles all the duties associated with household operations. She is also the primary caregiver for her mother and assists her with daily tasks, medications, doctor appointments and shopping.

"Judy exhibits selfless devotion to her mom and [her mom's] daily needs," according to nominator Eileen O'Grady.

Susan Stanton nominated her mother Rita Chapman of Williamstown because of the care Chapman provides her.

Cecile Bombardier


"In 1994 I became paralyzed due to an aneurysm that caused an automobile accident," Stanton said in her nomination. "Since that day, my Mom has been my caregiver just about 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She quit her job and devoted her life to me. She schedules all of my appointments, arranges for transportation and administers my multiple medications. Her love for me has never wavered. She is caring, kind, loving and understanding."

Dr. Robert Jandl nominated caregiver winner Debbie Johnson, and stated in the nomination "[She] is incredibly kind, caring, and devoted. She had a patient that had a [serious] malignancy, which would have scared off many caregivers. She appeared completely non-judgemental, loving and caring for all his personal needs to the very end."

"The Definition Of What A 'Good Man' Should Be"

Phillip Remillard lives in Stamford, Vt., works in Williamstown, and never fails to travel to Adams on a daily basis to care for his mother.

"Phil juggles his time between work, caring for his mom and raising two college-age daughters," according to nominators Chuck Paquette, Mika Hirai, Gayle Barton, and Bruce Wheat. "He has organized a schedule of care that includes friends, family, and a personal caregiver. He has a positive outlook 24/7 and is always looking for ways to keep a high level of well being for his mom."

Remillard wasn't the only male of the group; Susan Bushika nominated her father, city resident Frank R. Bushika, because "he is the definition of what a 'good man' should be."

"My dad is the most wonderful husband and father," she said in the nomination."He puts others always before himself. He is almost 81 years old and works full time so that my mom can receive the care she needs. It is hard on him, but he will do what has to be done."

Real Life


Marina Bacher
Prior to the award announcement, retired physician and Williamstown Selectman Dr. John Merselis spoke about caregiving. A "composite" of a caregiver is described as a woman in her 40s who works full or part-time and is caring for a parent, he said.

"This [ceremony] is not about a 'composite,' this is about real life," he said.

Merselis described several nominee situations and noted "This is but a sampling of [caregiving] that goes on every day."

The "faces of caregiving" are different but most share attributes such as courage, compassion, trust, and dedication, Merselis said.

"Thank you for giving so much of yourselves," Merselis said to the nominees. "You make the world a better place."

Paul Jangrow, a social worker employed at the Sweet Brook Continuing Care Center shared a joke with those in attendance and noted that for caregivers, "humor is important."

Jangrow said that "to give, one must have," and then posed the question "So how does one give to oneself?"

2005 Horizon Caregiver of the Year Shirley Jean Lee and her sister Arlene Perras


Taking care to eat nourishing foods, maintain regular exercise, and get enough rest and sleep are ways to give to oneself, Jangrow said, and strongly urged caregivers to consider meditation. Meditation can provide a mechanism for connecting with one's self, he said.

Good Enough

During remarks titled "The Good Enough Caregiver," Palmisano articulated the emotional swings caregivers may experience while trying to be "perfect," such as frustration, fear, and stress. The many issues that surround most illnesses or injuries can be overwhelming, he said.

"You begin to realize that you aren't in control of the situation," he said.

Failure to realize that the medical situation itself has control can generate exhaustion, resentment, and even more determined efforts to be a "perfect" caregiver, he said.

A way to ease emotional turmoil is to realize "I can't control this, but I can be present," Palmisano said, and explained that "being present" can validate the ill or injured person's experiences as well as caregiver feelings.

Caregivers should accept that they have limitations and recognize what those limitations are. Most people have a "line" that should not be crossed physically or emotionally, he said.

"I challenge us to ask ourselves as caregivers where that line is for you," he said, and encouraged people to ask for help.

And while help may not always be available, Palmisano encouraged caregivers to try and manage even a five-minute break.

"Give yourself a break," he said, referring to all aspects of caregiving. "Give yourself a break because you are good enough."

Resources and Tips

Caregiver information and resources are available at a special caregiver library established at the David and Joyce Milne Public Library in Williamstown. Horizon is a program of the NBH REACH Community Health Foundation that emphasizes caregivng. The Horizon mission is "to provide resources and information that will aid and support caregivers in helping their loved ones lead independent and healthy lives."

Beth Parker-O'Brien is the Horizon Advisory Board chairwoman; board members are Merselis,Roger Brechner, Cindy Sault, Linda Crowe, Mary Jo Carpenter, Martha Elpern, and Karen Gold.

Internet web sites focused on family or friend caregivers offer a wealth of information.

"10 Tips for Family Caregivers," found on a www.thefamilycaregiver.org web site, offers helpful hints.

"Caregiving is a job and respite is your earned right," according to a "tip." "Reward yourself with respite breaks often."

"Watch out for signs of depression and don't delay in getting professional help when you need it," "Seek support from other caregivers," and "Grieve for your losses and then allow yourself to dream new dreams" are additional recommendations included on the list.

Finances and Fortitude

The financial value of "free" caregiver services is estimated at $257 billion per year, according to information provided at the web site.

"That is twice as much as is actually spent on home care and nursing home services," according to web site information, which lists the source of the data as Peter S. Arno, who presented "Economic Value of Caregiving" to the American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry in February 2002.

"Common bonds of caregiving" are identified as sadness, upheaval, and isolation, but there are other caregiver denominators, according to the web site information, and those were apparent during the ceremony.

"It is the fortitude to go on despite the pain. It is the wellspring of hope we always dip into.It is the power to make a difference. It is the clever way we solve a difficult problem. It is the knowledge that we have been tested by fire, and we have survived."

For the nine 2006 Horizon Caregiver of the Year honorees, it is a way of life.

Additional information about Horizon may be acquired by calling 413-664-5326.

Internet information about family caregiving may be acquired at a www.thefamilycaregiver.org web site or a www.caregiver.org web site.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.


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