We had been looking forward to going to St. Croix for months. Tim of course had looked forward to laying on the beach and swimming in the pool while I spoke at the Virgin Islands Family Caregiver Support Program retreat sponsored by the Department of Human Services. We also had big plans to visit another island by ferry or sea plane. One of the worst moments after Tim’s death was having to cancel his ticket with American Airlines and to tell the retreat planner that Tim wouldn’t be coming with me after all. I remember her screaming into the phone in disbelief and she hadn’t even met him.
When I arrived in St. Croix on Friday afternoon I wasn’t sure how I’d feel or what to expect. I knew that someone would be picking me up, but I didn’t know the person’s name or where to meet them. I was a little worried but exited the airport with the rest of the passengers. A woman walked up to me and said “Ms Veney?” And I said “Yes”! We hugged as if we’d known each for all of our lives.
The trip to the hotel was only about 20 minutes and very scenic. I got to the gorgeous hotel and the room was huge and beautiful with a balcony overlooking the pool and the ocean. With my briefcase still in my hand, I was immediately overcome with grief that Tim wasn’t with me and burst into tears! After getting myself together I stood out on the balcony and smiled because Tim absolutely would love this resort.
The retreat was held at a beautiful casino and conference center across the street from the resort. I had a couple of hours to relax on the balcony before the opening session of the retreat and dinner. I learned a lot from the first session on providing care that is safe for both the patient and the caregiver. After spending six days in the hospital with Tim, I learned the proper way to roll a patient in a hospital bed without injuring them or myself. I’m hoping I won’t have to use those skills again, but I’m happy to have learned them.
The buffet dinner was awesome. I tried kallaloo soup, a traditional Carribean dish made with fish and leafy green vegatables, and sweet potato stuffing, an amazing dish that reminded me of sweet potato casserole and tasted like a decadent dessert. Thankfully I had done my Cize workout before heading to the airport Friday morning.
My first session on Saturday morning was amazing! I gave my Being My Mom’s Mom presentation, but tailored it to the retreat theme of Building the Spirit of the Caregiver. I received a standing ovation and they said they’d love to invite me back for next year. There were lots of tears from caregivers when I shared the news of Tim’s death near the end of my presentation. I was discussing the necessity of having a plan and a backup plan when it comes to caregiving. I stated that Tim’s death was shocking for our family, and that I didn’t have a backup plan in place for all Tim did for my Mom, except for what Kim can do when she isn’t busy with her own life and with Kendal. I shared with the group that after Tim’s death, my great friend Jan Lipscomb volunteered to help with some of the things Tim used to do with Mom and how relieved I was to have her offer of help.
After the presentation I was swarmed with hugs and much love as if I was a member of the Caregiver group. It was a spiritually fulfilling and bonding time. The Dept. of Human Services staff then announced that everyone in the goup would be receiving a copy of my book which I had shipped in advance. Caregiver bags with an adult coloring book, colored pencils and my book were distributed. Everyone cheered and clapped as if they had won the lottery and an immediate line formed for me to sign their books.
The group then piled into vans for a field trip to Cramers Beach where a lunch of chicken, ribs, and salmon with lots of side dishes was prepared on the beach. The fun time was kicked off with a great Zumba session, and that was followed up with plenty of dancing and relay games in the water!! The energy in the group was amazing! They encouraged me to dance with them and I did! If you know me well you know I love to dance, and I must have danced for more than an hour! It was freeing and healing and I believe I was dancing away some of my grief!
After returning from the beach, there was another retreat session Saturday night and another scrumptous buffet dinner. After dinner I hung out at the casino with the Human Services staff and had a great time.
On Sunday morning I gave my final presentation which was the theme of the conference “Building the Spirit of the Caregiver”. It was a BLAST!! There was more laughing and tears and clapping during the entire presentation. We discussed having faith, being grateful, thankful and cherishing every moment we spend with those for whom we care. I know that this presentation was just as much for me as it was for them! It was very healing for me and I so appreciated the lively and thunderous applause from the group.
I’ll treasure forever the gifts I received from the group for my presentations. Both were made from glass by a Virgin Island artist. One is a plaque and the other is a beautiful clock which has the hibiscus flower on it.
One of the most amazing parts of the weekend for me was how it ended. After the other morning speaker spoke to the group about healthy eating, the last session was entitled “Words of Inspiration” but no speaker name was listed. Instead of having a church service that everyone could relate to and enjoy, the session was an open forum for the caregivers to share a song, a prayer, what they were feeling at that moment or their impressions of the retreat weekend. It was one of the most moving hours I’ve spent in a long time. Caregiving is hard work and the folks in attendance poured their hearts and souls into what they said or sang! I was flattered that so many of those who spoke or prayed said how strong a person I was, and how much of what I had shared with them this weekend had moved them or changed them. I didn’t speak during the last hour, because I really wanted to hear from those I hadn’t heard from over the weekend.
I came to the St. Croix a little worried about how things would go, and more specifically how I would be. I left having shared both my Mom and Tim with them and knowing that I’m a stronger person now than when I arrived. I believe I needed this trip maybe even more than the caregivers who attended. They embraced me and loved me as if I was one of their own, and by the end of the retreat as we dropped them off at the sea plane or the airport and shared many hugs, I HAD BECOME a member of their caregivers group! Thank you Virgin Island Caregivers for caring for me! I’m honored and thankful and can’t wait to see you again!