In 2014, Sarah Dufrechou’s husband of five years had a massive stroke that left him in a nursing home he will never leave. Sarah was 30 years old, and any hope of a future together – dreams, plans, new homes, adventures – was shattered. Thrust into unfamiliar territory as a part-time nurse and full-time caretaker, she felt alone and isolated as guilt consumed any desire for her own self-care or healing.
“This is the life of a caretaker. It is a silent pain and loneliness and grief we carry,” says Sarah, the Temple Israel member who helped create Caregiver Café, a support group for caregivers hosted by Temple. “We hide it from our friends and family. We feel a burden that we are not comfortable sharing. We take on more than we can handle. And all the while we think, ‘How can I do this one more day?’”
Not satisfied to continue bearing the burden alone, Sarah reached out to Debbie Jackson, the chair of Temple Cares, an affiliate program of Temple Israel that offers services to members and their families, such as rides to doctors’ appointments and food when a loved one is sick.
Sarah understood her need to feel connected, not just to vent or complain about her situation. And she knew that a Jewishly focused group could offer something one may not find elsewhere.
“From this journey, I knew there were other silent witnesses on a similar path,” says Sarah. “New mothers, spouses, parents, children – all caretakers in their own way who need a place to simply be without judgment, without expectations. To say, ‘I, too, am suffering. I, too, need a gentle place to fall.’”
Caregiver Café aims to offer spiritual guidance from Torah as well as a sense of community. The service of caregiving can lead to feelings of isolation, and often, caregivers crave a space to simply be with others who understand their situation.
“‘To love another as oneself’ requires us to care for ourselves as though we too are worthy of love and care,” says Rabbi Feivel Strauss, senior education Rabbi at Temple Israel and the lead clergy for Caregiver Café. “To the extent we nourish our ‘self,’ the better we can care for others. It is vital for caretakers to honor the holy work they do and to resolve together through community and friendship.”
For Sarah and those who attend meetings, the idea is not to deny the pain and suffering, but rather to look for ways to leave stronger and more able to carry the weight. Sarah hopes that Caretaker Café can be a place where everyone is welcomed in safe space to share the burden of caregiving.
“There is no right way or better way or best way to be a caretaker,” says Sarah. “Judaism acknowledges our humanness, and it also sees the divine spark within all of us.”
Caregiver Café meets at Temple Israel on the second Sunday of each month at 10 a.m.