Taking Pride in Caregiving

Phoenix couple uses caregiving experiences to help others along the way

George Burson, his mother, Gina, and David Samora in 2016. Photos courtesy of Duet.

By Michelle Talsma Everson, April 2018 Issue.

A family caregiver is someone who provides unpaid care for a loved one. More than 65 million people in the United States are family caregivers, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP.

The task of caregiving for a loved one can take an emotional, physical and mental toll – but finding support and resources can often help family caregivers on the daunting but rewarding journey.

George Burson (left) and David Samora.

George Burson and David Samora, owners of Salon Georvid in Central Phoenix, have been together for 28 years. The duo has been on their own caregiving journey since 1999.

“In 1989, my dad had a stroke and moved from New York to Arizona; in 1999, he began to show signs of dementia and he and my mom moved in with us,” Burson shared. Burson’s father passed away in 2003, a transition that was devastating to the family.

“[My dad’s passing] was extremely difficult for my mom – she was providing a lot of care for him,” Burson said. “Today, my mom is now 89 and has a lot of health issues herself. She is on hospice care and is still living in our home.”

While caring for Burson’s parents in home, Samora helped to provide care long-distance for his own mother. “My sister was the main caregiver for my mom, who passed away, but I always did what I could from a distance,” Samora says. “My mom had Alzheimer’s disease.”

In the fall of 2016, Burson and Samora connected with local nonprofit Duet: Partners In Health & Aging. Duet promotes health and well-being through a broad range of services to homebound adults, family caregivers, faith communities and grandparents raising grandchildren.

At the time, the nonprofit was shooting videos for its “Finding Meaning and Hope” video discussion series and wanted to include a diverse array of caregivers. The video series, created in partnership with Pauline Boss, PhD, thanks to a grant from Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, is a free video and discussion series for family caregivers led by peer volunteers. The series is based on Boss’ book, Loving Someone Who Has Dementia: How to Find Hope While Coping with Stress and Grief.

“We found out about Duet actually through a client at the salon who knew we were caring for my mom,” Burson recalled. “We started shooting the video series in October 2016; we – and those shooting the video series – wanted to be sure that LGBTQ caregivers were seen and represented in the series.”

Two weeks before filming began, Samora’s mom passed away. “Still grieving, we wanted to participate in the video series and see what good we could do,” Samora said.

According to both Burson and Samora, the video shoot experience taught them a lot.

“Like a lot of people who provide care for loved ones, we didn’t realize that we were caregivers,” Samora said. “It was a very moving, eye-opening experience for us. A lot of what we had been through now had a name.”

The video shoot, Burson added, helped them both to understand their caregiving journey better.

“Learning about the things that Dr. Boss teaches in her book, like how to deal with guilt and how important the work of a caregiver is, really helps us to deal with the challenges,” he added.

Duet staff, volunteers and supporters at the end of the “Finding Meaning in Hope” video discussion taping.

When the video shoot wrapped up, Burson and Samora decided to continue volunteering with Duet. Currently, they both regularly attend the men’s only caregiver support group; are mentors for other caregivers through the caregiver-to-caregiver mentor program; and have volunteered at a variety of the nonprofit’s events.

“We are so fortunate to have George and David as part of our Duet family,” said Daniela Saylor, family caregiver services program manager for Duet. “They’ve infused every single project they have taken on as Duet volunteers with their professionalism, decades of experience, and enormous hearts. They wear many hats simultaneously, and somehow manage to make them all look good!”

Additionally, Burson and Samora will be facilitators for a “Finding Meaning and Hope” video discussion series that takes place from 1 to 2:30 p.m. on Mondays at the Franciscan Renewal Center beginning April 9. The video discussion series is free to caregivers. It will be the second time the couple has facilitated a group.

“The ‘Finding Meaning and Hope’ video discussion series group is like a roadmap for caregivers; it allows caregivers to open up, helps them to evolve, and ease[s] the guilt sometimes associated with caregiving,” Burson said. “Attendees from our last group left the group much stronger than they came in.”

In addition to the video discussion series – which is being offered on an ongoing basis at locations across the Valley – Duet offers a wide variety of caregiver support groups as well. An LGBTQ caregiver support group is currently in the works.

“Duet’s services have always been inclusive, yet we’ve recognized that for many members of the LGBTQ community, particularly older adults who experienced major ongoing discrimination, joining a traditional support group is not comfortable,” said Ann Wheat, director of caregiver services. “We are excited to better serve the LGBTQ community by launching an LGBTQ caregiver support group. The grief, stress and isolation of caring for someone we love does not discriminate. Everyone needs support to navigate this difficult journey.”

Burson and Samora both describe their caregiving journey as a roller coaster – one that has been especially challenging the past two years as Burson’s mom’s health declined. For other caregivers, the couple wants to send the message that help is out there from Duet through support groups, the video discussion series, community referrals, resources, potential respite care and more.

“The year before my mom died, I didn’t even self-identify as a caregiver,” Samora said. “It’s a true relief to know that help is out there. We enjoy volunteering with Duet and, as people are living longer, we’ve realized it’s about staying active and quality of life. I’m so glad we’re out there helping other people on their caregiving journeys.”

For more information on Duet, including its caregiver support groups and the “Finding Meaning and Hope” video discussion series, visit duetaz.org or call 602- 274-5022.