Contributed by Gabriela Torres, Communications Intern 

The Association Family Caregivers of BC reports that over 1 million people provide unpaid care for adult family members and friends in our province. Since this week is Family Caregiver Week, we would like to honour all of the amazing caregivers across BC and around the world by reflecting on and acknowledging their contributions to the quality of their relatives’ lives. Although a caregiver’s focus is on helping others, sometimes caregivers need help too. Pop by the Family Caregivers of BC website to check out a variety of resources like coaching, support groups or educational seminars.

Perhaps one of the most critical ways that posAbilities supports family caregivers, is by working with them and funders like Community Living BC to help them with the day to day challenges of supporting a child with a disability as they age. This often includes facilitating a transition for the son or daughter to living outside of the family home.

This week, we’d like to shine a spotlight on one of our amazing Shared Living caregivers, Alisa,

Photo from left to right: Joanne (artist), Alisa (caregiver), Mary (actress, stage makeup shining through).

who shares her life with two women, each of whom has very different cultural and religious backgrounds. Alisa fosters a home environment filled with love, acceptance, happiness, and mutual respect for others and enjoys celebrating the many different traditions that are part of each woman’s life as well as her own.

The Start of Something New

Prior to entering the world of caregiving, Alisa was a librarian at a resource center for eleven years and had many different roles. One of the opportunities she was given was to teach those living with developmental disabilities, their families, and their caregivers social skills, sexual abuse prevention, and how to build new relationships with others. When the center closed, Alisa was looking for new ways of caring for and teaching others. This is when Alisa’s friend, a home share provider, introduced her to caregiving at posAbilities and helped Alisa find the ideal person to share her life with.

This brings us back in time to 2004, when a young and funky actress moved into Alisa’s home. This woman’s name was Mary and she came from a Jewish cultural background. Since Mary’s family was looking for a Jewish caregiver to carry on their traditions and customs, Alisa turned out to be a great fit for them because she was Jewish too!

Fast forward to 2010, after years of searching for the perfect housemate for Mary, a second woman named Joanne finally moved into Alisa’s home, and wow was she ever great! While Mary is a down to earth actress who loves performing in plays, Joanne is talented artist who loves to paint.

Upon meeting Mary, Alisa and Joanne got to know each other over delicious meals and their shared love of food. Joanne often visited Alisa’s home for lunches, dinners, and the occasional tea party. These short visits soon progressed to longer weekend and weekday visits and from then on out, it was safe to say that both Mary and Joanne were becoming very close friends. Luckily, for everyone, the immediate connection between all three women led to Joanne’s desire to move into Alisa’s home, making Alisa, Joanne’s number one caregiver of choice.

A Happy Family 

As a caregiver, Alisa recognizes the cultures and practices that surround her and both women. She welcomes each culture by celebrating various traditions and holidays in a way that is inclusive of everyone in her household.

Mary and Joanne already spend a great deal of time with one another whether it be taking long walks, going out for sushi, or indulging in their morning cups of Starbucks coffee, but what really brings them and Alisa’s family together is celebrating and embracing different cultures. Even though Joanne comes from a Sikh cultural background she celebrated many different holidays the year she moved into Alisa’s home. This included Christmas, Diwali, and Hanukah with Alisa’s entire family. Hanukah was something very new to Joanne but it turned out to be a great experience for everyone when she partook in the celebrations. Alisa still looks back on this moment with a smile and a chuckle because Hanukah has very quickly become one of Joanne’s favourite holidays due to the daily gifts she receives for eight days straight!

Not only are the holiday and cultural celebrations a huge part of the dynamic between Mary and Joanne, but so is practicing forgiveness and compassion. No matter the challenges and frustrations each woman faces, they are always there for one another to lend a helping hand. Alisa states: “They always come back to their strong feelings of friendship and nothing can ever stand in the way of that. They never fail to forgive each other and explain why they were in a bad mood or why they were feeling angry. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Here’s to the Unforgettable Moments and Traditions  

Over the years, all three women have shared unforgettable moments and have made many memories together. For Alisa, one of the most impactful moments happened after the sudden passing of her father. This was a very difficult time for Alisa and her family. Even so, Mary and Joanne managed to cheer Alisa up with their remarkable compassion, kindness, and effortless ability to make others smile. During this time, both women hugged Alisa, danced, and sung songs even taking Alisa by the hand and energetically spinning and skipping around in a circle with her. Alisa has never been able to forget the sensitivity the two ladies showed towards her after her dad’s passing and it made Alisa feel very grateful to have both women in her life. Alisa says, “they are very special people who are extremely sensitive to other people’s happiness and pain. I have to say, I’m very touched to have them in my life.”

Other celebrations Mary and Joanne enjoy include big family dinners on Thanksgiving where Alisa’s family, Mary, and Joanne discuss what they are thankful for, strengths they need to continue developing, and ways they can improve different aspects of their lives in the future. They also like to celebrate the special anniversary of the day they moved into Alisa’s home. For both women, this significant day in their lives is ironically on the same date of November fourth but just a few years apart!

Learning From One Another

Alisa and the ladies she cares for learn new things from each other every day. While both women have gained independence through home sharing, their close bond has taught Alisa and her family new ways of caring for others, how to celebrate unfamiliar cultures, and most importantly how to express compassion and forgiveness towards others. The women contribute to all of the love in Alisa’s home and are truly an inspiration not only to Alisa but to Alisa’s husband, son, neighbours, and community.

* Note: Names used in this post have been changed for confidentiality