In Gaspésie, people care about each other

02 April 2024

In Gaspésie, people care about each other

As a caregiver to her father Réjean, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, Jenny Lévesque works at the Centre d’action bénévole des Chic-Chocs. A professional with her finger on the pulse of the major issues facing the Haute-Gaspésie region, and for whom art is her favourite intervention tool.

Jenny Lévesque - CAB Chics-Chocs

What led you to coordinate end-of-life, palliative care and caregiver support services?

For seven years, I was a caregiver for my mother, who suffered from chronic respiratory disorders and was bipolar. Things were going well, but her medical appointments were all outside of our region; here, we’re far from major centres and transportation is a challenge. I couldn’t do it all. I discovered the Centre d’action bénévole (CAB) when I came seeking help with transportation. You have no idea how much work the CABs do!

I accompanied my mother to the end. I “reunited” with her on that occasion, and we had some magical moments. When she died, I realized that I’d had no idea how to support her at the end of her life. The physical aspect of the pain had made me uncomfortable. I had observed how my aunt dealt with my mother; it was so beautiful! It inspired me. I was working at the CISSS de la Gaspésie when the CAB des Chic-Chocs called to confirm that I had been offered the position of coordinator of the L’Envolée end-of-life support volunteer cohort and, among other things, of the caregiver support project.

What’s the situation for caregivers in the Haute-Gaspésie region?

Respite and transportation are major issues here. Many people have little or no access to respite care because of staff shortages. For my interventions, I sometimes go to the home, and that’s much appreciated. With the amount of support I have to provide, the meetings aren’t long, but I make sure they do happen!

Another reality is that adult children and grandchildren are living outside the region. These seniors therefore feel very alone, and community support is all the more crucial. Volunteers who work with caregivers and beneficiaries are essential…

And you are still a caregiver today…

Yes, I’m a caregiver to my father and my aunt, the same one who looked after my mother at the time. She’s the one with the needs now, so her sisters and I share the work. It’s a lot of transportation coordination; only yesterday I took her to the grocery store. I love her very much.

For my father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, a team was set up around him: my brother had his tasks, I had mine. But he lived on the edge of the forest. He’d go into the woods and … get lost. In Gaspésie, there’s no cell phone service everywhere; it was impossible to get him to wear a GPS watch to locate him. After several months of waiting, Dad was lucky enough to get a place in a seniors’ residence. He’s fine now. I accompany him to his medical appointments and visit him. My role as a caregiver has eased: it’s just a pleasure!

How do you use art in your interventions?

Art is my own little style. I can’t necessarily do art therapy workshops, even though I have a background in the arts. So I wrote a book, illustrated with watercolours, depicting a woman’s life since childhood. I’m still working on it and testing the book out with women. The book enables them to reflect on the roles in their lives: who am I as a friend, worker, spouse, mother and caregiver? What do I do other than help others? Who am I without the perception of others and without the perspective of the person being cared for? What makes me feel good?

Jenny Lévesque - Cahier Proches aidantes- CAB Chics-Chocs

What is critical in the post-caregiving phase?

The CAB’s clientele is mostly seniors. I see a lot of loneliness in this vast region. As there are few residences, people spend a lot of time at home. When we intervene, after referral from the CLSC, neighbours, family or friends, the person has often already experienced a long period of isolation.

People experience isolation when they are caregivers. They are not prepared for the loneliness that awaits them when the person they are caring for dies.

Caregivers are always on the move. Once they’re alone, the grief is all the greater, and an abyss of solitude opens up. They (they are mostly women) no longer know who they are or what they love. They have spent their lives helping others.

What are the specific needs of caregivers in Haute-Gaspésie?

I also think that in Haute-Gaspésie, the perception of others is very present. I know caregivers who don’t consider putting their elderly loved one in a home, even when it’s necessary. This leaves caregivers exhausted.

But there’s a bright side: there’s solidarity. Helping out with shovelling snow-covered steps, cleaning the car, grocery shopping… Many caregivers who receive CAB Meals-on-Wheels services have been referred by their neighbours. There’s a concern for others, and that’s necessary in a region that’s not the mildest on the Gaspé Peninsula! Here, it’s windy; people have character. Solidarity is a value, but there can always be more of it, and that’s what I try to emphasize in my work.

Thanks to Jenny Lévesque for her communicative energy and this energizing conversation! L’Appui pour les proches aidants supports the Centre d’action bénévole des Chic-Chocs in its work with caregivers of seniors. The CAB offers caregivers talks, workshops, groups and conferences open to a wider public. The respite program is offered in collaboration with social economy enterprises.

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