|Crescent Lake, Washington|
I slipped away from sunny California and traveled first by plane to Seattle and then by ferry and car to Port Angeles in stormy but beautiful Washington for a long weekend. I joined my friend, fellow writer and caregiver Jeneva Burroughs Stone, and writer/caregiver Leslie Haynes at the invitation of Heather McHugh, the MacArthur prize-winning poet who founded the organization Caregifted. Many of you who've been reading this blog for years might remember that I received a week of respite several years ago, the first time I'd been away for more than a few days in more than nineteen years. Caregifted provides respite weeks, free of charge, to family caregivers of the disabled who have been doing the caregiving for at least ten years.
That week in Victoria is documented on my blog, and it quite literally changed my life. I grew to love Heather and what she is doing for those of us with these unique, often arduous but also deeply fulfilling lives. Most, if not all of us are exhausted, and while we might have learned some profound perspective, the relentless nature of caregiving for a severely disabled son, daughter or spouse is something that few people -- even close friends and family -- ever understand. I'd say that Heather McHugh is a person who does understand this -- inexplicably, as she has no children of her own. She is a poet and an angel -- and I don't say that lightly.
There is no other organization that I know of that does what she does, and while it's a small one, the impact of Caregifted is deep and intense. Heather invited us to her beloved Pacific Northwest to have a kind of creative pow-wow to figure out how to keep the organization going. Given the disastrous election, many of us who work with and care for our disabled children and young adults are justifiably terrified at what might happen. We are certain that any services we might receive could very well be cut or drastically reduced. We are concerned about the rights of our children and all people with disabilities and about our ability to fight successfully for them. Disability rights are civil rights, and they will be threatened. There has been real progress under the Obama administration in the areas of education law, the Affordable Care Act and other issues. Many people don't realize that, but there is still much work to be done. The cognitively disabled, in particular, are overlooked, as are the severely disabled, and our lives as caregivers are seriously impacted by a culture and government that doesn't acknowledge or help us.
Caregifted is an extraordinary and very unique organization. Since the election, many of us are mobilizing through concrete action to help organizations that are helping the disenfranchised. I am making monthly donations to Planned Parenthood and to the ACLU. I plan on registering as a Muslim should the Trump administration make registration a priority, and I am ready and willing to do what it takes to resist the mockery of a presidency, the band of mostly white men who surround him and the legion of their supporters. I know that many of you are doing the same, supporting organizations that support people of color, the LGBTQ community, climate change initiatives, Muslim and other religious minorities, as well as women. I urge you to add the disabled to your list. Caregifted is decidedly NOT a political organization, but it is an extraordinary and very unique one. I would love if you'd make a contribution, however small, to Caregifted. Helping caregivers helps the disabled. Rights for the disabled are civil rights. Trust me on that one.
Here's their website. Donate if you can. Stay tuned to hear about screenings of the wonderful documentary Undersung. We are a small group, but you are a mighty one. Share it and tell your friends and family about it.