Dasha Kiper
Consulting Clinical Supervisor,
Support Groups

Like so many programs at CaringKind, support groups had to shift from meeting in person (as they have for over 30 years) to meeting virtually on Zoom or over the phone. Support group leaders accepted this change graciously, but, of course, there were concerns. Would clients feel supported without the comfort of their leaders and their fellow members nearby? Would leaders be able to direct the flow of conversation without benefiting from their members’ physical presence? Could they handle the glitches and the distraction of technology? Finally, could a safe environment be sustained without sharing the same space as their members?

Despite these challenges, our leaders adapted quickly and many were gratified to see their groups become richer and their members grow closer. The stress of caregiving during the epidemic and the isolation that comes with social distancing have only reinvigorated the members’ eagerness to connect to, and gain comfort from, each other.

My group has been a lifeline for me for years. I shudder to think how I would have gotten through the current crisis without the group. Each caregiver’s situation is unique, but we have come to know each other well and consistently offer commiseration and practical and emotional tips. I look forward to the day when we can again meet physically and give each other a personal, not a virtual, hug. In the meantime, the Zoom meetings are a bright spot in a dark time.

Along with COVID-19 has come increased stress, helplessness, and conflicted feelings about one’s role as a caregiver. This makes support groups more essential than ever. A support group is a place where caregivers can find an emotional outlet. It is often the only time when caregivers can focus on their own well-being. Members encourage each other not to forget their own needs and remind themselves to establish boundaries and practice self-care.

I had a real concern for my mom following the pandemic. Having to work from home has produced a whole new dynamic in caring for my mom. And initially I questioned how and if I could do both, particularly with a demanding employer. Thank heaven for my group: it restores my faith in myself.

I feel blessed to have a support group during these uncertain, challenging times. Each individual in our group, along with our leader, creates an open space to express different layers of emotions. I don’t usually express my anger or vulnerabilities easily, but I do in group, and during these stressful times support groups are more important than ever.

As a caregiver assisting a loved one with a deteriorating illness that affects everyone, it is easy to forget one’s self. Support groups remind us of the importance of taking care of ourselves in order to take care of others. During COVID-19, we have to make sure not to lose ourselves entirely in the caregiving role.

The challenge of COVID-19 is that caregivers’ preexisting worries have been magnified. Many caregivers not living with the care receiver already felt enormous guilt and a lack of control. Such feelings only intensified as nursing homes became COVID-19 hot spots and visitation was prohibited. And, of course, health care aides became much harder to find. Meanwhile, caregivers living with the care receiver met with greater burdens and consequently greater pressure, frustration, and exhaustion.

Since COVID-19 I have lost the aides I so much depended on. Now I must take care of my mom completely alone, with no help, while holding down a full-time job. I feel grateful I still have my group, which has become a life-preserver when I feel so overwhelmed and alone.

Despite the apparent change in support groups as they transition from in-person to virtual, our mission has remained the same: to provide a space where caregivers feel connected with people who truly understand them and whose compassion is based on similar experience. Now more than ever, caregivers need and deserve this kind of support.

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