Written by Laura Geilenfeldt, LMSW – Southern Oregon Care Services Coordinator
I recently had the privilege of meeting with Jonathan and Amber Jenson. In honor of Caregiver Appreciation Month, I wanted to highlight their story and Amber’s role as a caregiver. It was clear from the moment I walked in the door that Amber is an inspiring woman. She is the mother of 7(!) kids; a fulltime caregiver to Jonathan, who has been living with ALS for the past six years; a vital, contributing member of her church and local community; and, last but not least, a strong advocate for the ALS Association.
What struck me most, however, was not the fullness or busyness of Amber’s life and caregiving role. What truly impressed me was her decision to be a caregiver to herself. When Amber shared this choice, it didn’t sound much like the popular self-care we typically hear about, like treating yourself with a luxurious bubble bath or extra whipped cream on an iced coffee.
Instead, what Amber talked about was secluding herself in a closet for a few minutes to catch her breath, hammering out some push-ups to get enough of an endorphin boost to tackle the next thing (she’s Superwoman!), and what’s perhaps the most difficult decision for her – accepting help from other people. For a mother and a caregiver to a loved one with ALS, simply setting the intention to do something kind for yourself is sometimes a radical choice.
Amber shared how being a caregiver – years of doing it all – challenged her mental health and brought her to her knees. It’s incredible to think what Amber has done over the years, but perhaps her strength is most readily apparent in her choice to prioritize her own mental health in that moment.
Amber’s choice to practice self-care enabled her to be the best possible caregiver, and her decision sets a beautiful example by reminding us that you cannot pour from an empty cup. Caregiving continues to be an act of selflessness and love and yes, sometimes she’s still “in the weeds” both as a parent and as an ALS caregiver. But her decision to practice self-care has allowed her to do continue to do it all so well – that, and throwing an occasional tailgate party in the living room for her family to cheer on their favorite team. Go Cougars!
ALS is hard for the person living with ALS and it’s enormously hard for the caregivers. November is a time when we notice and appreciate this selfless work of caregiving, but we all know that the work continues day in and day out, year after year. We see you. Treat yourself with compassion as you care for others. Reach out for support, even if it’s only a voice on the phone reminding you that you are not alone. Be kind to yourself!