Dannelle speaks with Jenn Chan, CEO & Founder of the Senior Shower® Project. In this episode, Jenn shares her story of caring for her grandmother as a young adult and how her caregiving experience has deeply informed her current work. You’ll learn about compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout, as well as how to celebrate and support caregivers. Jenn and Dannelle also discuss seeking out spaces and connecting with others who are in a similar caregiving position to help you feel supported.
“The dynamic of who your loved one used to be – do you want to hold on to that or do you want to let that go and do you want to be present? It’s your time, make the best choice of the time that you have, and all your feelings are valid.” – Jenn Chan
- 3:02 Jenn’s 3 core values
- 7:56 Caregiving as a young adult compared to an older age group
- 10:37 The best resources for younger caregivers
- 13:35 What is anticipatory grief?
- 17:45 How did Jenn come up with the Senior Shower® Project?
- 21:38 What is Jenn currently passionate about?
Millennial caregivers generally walk a very different journey than older counterparts. Many are holding off or limiting dating, career, social life, and personal goals while taking care of a loved one.
Creating connections with other young caregivers is so important for emotional health. Finding support groups, educational workshops, and community resources can help develop self-care routines and navigate unfamiliar caregiving territory.
Although it affects many, anticipatory grief can be hard to put a finger on. It can manifest as anger, sadness, frustration, or a loss of control. Being able to name it and identify the loss (of personal time, career opportunity, social life, etc.) in that moment can clarify the root of our emotions. With clarity, we can begin to accept what we cannot change.
Seek out spaces – whether virtual or in person – that help you feel less alone. A supportive friendship, young caregivers group, or educational workshop are a few ways to consider building the kind of connections that keep us in balance.
Invest in what helps you feel better (physically, emotionally, spiritually) to care for yourself. It might not look the same as it did before caregiving, but you’re worthy of being looked after, too.
Celebrate the caregivers in your life! Jenn has created the Senior Shower® Project to lift up and honor caregivers and caregiverhood. Let’s act on showing how much we appreciate the work of caregiving.
Resources Mentioned in the Episode
- Website: Senior Shower Project
- Instagram Handle: @seniorshowerproject
- Facebook: @seniorshowerproject
- LinkedIn: Jenn Chan
- Twitter: @seniorshower
Educational workshops for caregiving:
- Family Caregiver Alliance Events and Classes
- Caregiver Training Workshops
- INSPIRE Program for Advanced Caregiving by UPMC
More about compassion fatigue:
Resources to Help Recognize and Manage your Feelings:
- Emotional Intelligence Toolkit: An In Depth Guide
- Recognize Your Emotions in 6 Steps
- The Feelings Circle: A Genius Chart For Better Communication
About Jenn Chan, CSA®, CCC™
Jenn Chan, CSA®, CCC™, is the CEO & Founder of Senior Shower® Project, a startup gift shop with a mission to celebrate family caregivers of older adults with a party. Inspired by caregiving for her grandma, Jenn dedicates her career to elevate the family caregiver role with fun, love, and positivity. As a Certified Senior Advisor and Certified Caregiving Consultant, Jenn also facilitates support groups for LGBTQ+ seniors, dementia caregivers, and young caregivers.
[00:00:06] Jenn: The dynamic of who your loved one used to be. Do you want to hold on to that or do you want to let that go and do you want to be present? And I always say, it’s your time, make the best choice of the time that you have, and all your feelings are valid.
[00:00:47] Dannelle (Recorded): Hello and welcome to The Caregiving Soul. The Caregiving Soul podcast is a series of conversations about what it’s like to care for loved ones in need, how we can better navigate the relationship, and the physical, emotional, and logistical complications we encounter as partners in care.
[00:00:23] I’m your host, Dannelle LeBlanc.
[00:00:52] [Music Ends]
[00:00:52] Today I’ll be speaking with Jenn Chan, CSA®, CCC™. She is the CEO & Founder of the Senior Shower® Project, a startup gift shop with a mission to celebrate family caregivers of older adults with a party! Inspired by her experience as a young caregiver for her grandma, Jenn’s work is dedicated to celebrating family caregivers with fun, love, and positivity. As a Certified Senior Advisor and Certified Caregiving Consultant, Jenn also facilitates support groups for LGBTQ+ seniors, dementia caregivers, and young caregivers.
[00:01:32] One of the difficult choices that caregivers in their twenties and thirties make is how, and when, to make hard choices about things like career opportunities, social activities, and other personal interests at a time when many young adults enjoy more personal freedom. I’m in awe of so many young people out there juggling so much in their personal and professional lives who, in many cases, are carrying the kind of debt right out of the gate that older generations didn’t have. It’s therefore critical that we talk about and identify what does and does not work here because the demands on younger caregivers are going to intensify and accelerate. Our older population is growing exponentially in size, and living longer, with more chronic health issues. So, people are going to need more caregivers for longer periods of time.
[00:02:41] Today we will discuss identifying as a young care partner, finding resources to learn how to sustain ourselves, and celebrating caregiverhood as a new rite of passage.
[00:02:55] [Music Plays]
[00:02:57] Welcome to Jenn Chan!
[00:03:02] [Music Ends]
[00:03:02] Dannelle: Jenn, I’m so glad that you’re joining us today. Welcome to The Caregiving Soul.
[00:03:07] Jenn: Thanks for having me on here. It’s been a while since our last interaction at a caregiving conference.
[00:03:13] Dannelle: Yes, I was so excited that you agreed to join us because we have developed this friendship over the years and I would love for our audience to learn more about you. Can you share your three core values and how they connect to your caregiving experience?
[00:03:33] Jenn: Of course, I would love to share that. Three core values… So, who am I? I am a former caregiver. I was a caregiver for my grandma for 10 years. I started in my mid-twenties so I was actually a young caregiver, taking on the caregiving role. For 10 years I shared the task with my brother as a primary caregiver. That’s pretty much my entire young adulthood. [Laughs] 10 years from mid-twenties to mid-thirties. So, I would say at that time, caregiving really made me question what my values were, because that’s just how I’m coming into my own being, again, entering my adulthood.
[00:04:07] Three things that would come to mind when it comes to caregiving – it’s obviously family values. I was raised in the Chinese culture: we respect our elders, take care of older adults, we always have big family gatherings. It’s no question for us to take care of an older adult when they start aging. A lot of times, we would either move our seniors into our home or we would take care of them in any capacity possible. So, for me, it’s making decisions based on family values, family traditions. And when it came to caregiving, obviously going to take care of my grandma. Also, she raised me and my brother, so at that time made a pact. Grandma gave her time (20 plus years) to take care us, we can give her that, if not more. So, for us it was really just the full circle of generations. So that would be one of the first things – making choices based on family values and respecting our elders and taking care of family.
[00:04:58] The second one I would say would be my identity. I didn’t really even know I was a caregiver until maybe year five of my ten-year journey. I thought I was just a granddaughter taking care of a grandma. I took on that role, but I felt like I was losing my other identities. I just graduated college. I was pursuing my career. I started losing my professional identity. So, I said, “what could that be? How can I add that identity back into the caregiver role?” Because I quit my job to take care of grandma full-time. She had diabetes, she was incontinent, she was in a wheelchair. So definitely had to monitor her physicality and her mobility at home – so decided to do that 24/7. But once I switched over to the caregiver role I lost my professional career identity. So, I wanted to explore what I can do, how I can balance my life, work life, and also caregiving lives. I explored that. And it was really valuable to me because I didn’t want to just be a caregiver. I knew I had so many more ambitions and goals, so many dreams that I want to pursue. So definitely added the professional identity to the stack of my whole wellbeing.
[00:06:02] And then also exploring what other identities do I have in terms of relationship, dating, lovers, thinking about my own family planning or even my identity as a friend. How can I show up as a friend in my community, in my network of people. And so, when I started really thinking about what was valuable to me, it was thinking it as a combination of my identities, the intersectionalities of everything, that defined who I am. And, in addition to talking about just the friend community I also am involved with the LGBTQ community. So, I wanted to also connect with my folks, my people, in that world and let them know that I want to participate also in, not only caregiving, but also LGBTQ advocacy as well. So just think about all those things. I feel like [Laughs] that made me value myself as a whole being, not just 1 portion of caregiving.
[00:06:49] And then the third one that I really value, I mean, I’m going to tell you this one’s to the core. I have lots of feelings. I put a lot of value on my feelings and my emotional connection with people. So, it is one of the things that I always talk about when I meet someone. During caregiving, I was trying to figure out how to date and when I was trying to connect with folks, well if they were to say, “who is Jenn?” I always lead with, “I am a caregiver and I also have a lot of feelings”. I like to talk about my feelings. So, if you like to talk about your emotions and your feelings, then we can have a connection. Really want to lead with that because if I can’t connect with a person on an emotional level, it’s okay, I respect where they are, but then I understand where that capacity is, and that’s it. But for me, I like to talk about my feelings [Laughs] and I like to talk about feelings about caregiving. So, they kind of go hand in hand. So those three: family, the intersectionalities of my identities, and then also my feelings – they really make up who I am.
[00:07:50] Dannelle: You are so skilled at connecting with younger caregivers on an emotional level.
[00:07:56] And I’m wondering how do the experiences of younger caregivers differ from older age groups?
[00:08:05] Jenn: With young caregivers I can speak personally, because I did go through that journey and I can also speak towards just present day. I sit in the position of facilitating young caregiver support groups so I see what’s happened to me in the last 10 years of caregiving, but then also present day. I definitely want to mention that I did not go through caregiving under the COVID pandemic. That’s a whole another level. So, in terms of connecting with young caregivers knowing what the differences I can tell you that, it’s really about connecting with other caregivers, peer to peer. During my experience, I wasn’t able to connect with other people who were taking care of their aging parent or an older adult. So that felt kind of lonely, just that being able to connect. When people were going out I said, “I have to go home and change some adult diapers”. So one of the things is just peer to peer support.
[00:08:54] And then the other thing is dating. You’re spending your time taking care of an older adult, you’re not going out to date the person that you may want to spend the rest of your life with.
[00:09:02] And another easy one that would come up was also career because maybe you did not go to school for nursing or geriatric care. You’ve just taken on the caregiver role and it’s a good chunk of your time caregiving versus pursuing maybe higher education or taking the next promotion and your job. I think that for younger caregivers – let me have a framework of, maybe age, 40 and under – I think that most of the challenges, cause if I were to compare that with the older adults – say 40 plus – maybe they have already had their relationship, they’ve already established themselves in their career. And that they have different caregiving challenges at that time, but from what I’ve experienced personally, and also what I hear from the groups, it’s really just about: when do I get my time to build my life, as a young adult? When will this caregiving end? That’s the question, right? You don’t want it to end, but you always ask, “when is this gonna end so I can spend that time to pursue my dreams and goals?” It’s always a question mark. I definitely had that question mark, a lot of the times and had to figure out a creative way to balance all of that.
[00:10:02] But I would say that that would be the difference. and then I would want to bring in the pandemic as well now, I think it’s really important to talk about it. That’s a whole ‘nother level that I cannot relate to, but I am so happy that we are in the digital age where young caregivers can connect with each other, digitally. There’s so many apps out there right now on the phones. And then a lot of the family caregiver agencies and alliances took all of their programming and made it virtual. So just think about the digital connection that’s available present day to provide continuous support, peer to peer support for young caregivers.
[00:10:37] Dannelle: So, you mentioned peer support, that peer to peer connection, the ability to do that virtually because of all of the digital support systems. What in your experience as a support group facilitator, what other resources for younger caregivers do you think make the greatest impact?
[00:10:59] Jenn: I think the resources on, I would say educational workshops. Stepping into caregiving, you don’t know what you’re doing and having as many tools on your tool belt is the best case scenario. So, when I say educational workshops, it could be attending a webinar, it can be contacting your local area agency on aging or family caregiver resource center to get more information. Because, in terms of caregiving, you got to think about the reason why. Is it you’re taking care of your loved one? Is there a condition, is it a temporary condition, do need to learn more about a diagnosis? You’ve got to learn what you have to do for your partner. So, there’s a huge educational piece.
[00:11:39] And then once you understand the situation a little bit more then you can be a better caregiver. And I also link to workshops because besides the support groups, what’s really beneficial is understanding how to care of yourself. I’m a huge advocate of self-care and part of self-care is educational workshops for recognizing signs of say, compassion fatigue, signs of caregiver burnout. It’s the educational piece but it actually all links into your wellbeing of taking care of yourself so that you can provide care for your loved ones, and learning about it.
[00:12:17] Dannelle: That is so true. The fact that it’s necessary for us to become educated about how we care for ourselves during a caregiving experience sounds a little bit out the box. It’s not intuitive, but I’m so glad that you brought it up because it does look so different during caregiving, finding ways to do that work, under those conditions is really important.
[00:12:44] Jenn: It really is. And now that we’re chatting about, I really want to talk about how, as a young caregiver, learning to deal with anticipatory grief – I think that’s a huge one. I prefaced earlier, I like talk about my feelings. As a young caregiver you want to explore your feelings on anticipatory grief. I think that’s a little different. I think maybe you’re not expecting to take care of your partner so early, or you’re not expecting to take care of your parents so early in life. How do you deal with that? How you deal with the grieving process? How do you get support for that? How do you recognize all the emotional signs of, “hey, what am I dealing with?” So, finding more resources to recognize your feelings and what those feelings may be, could really help with caregiving. And sometimes there are good feelings and sometimes, they could be heavy ones but we’re all human so we’re going to have feelings, know what those feelings mean and make the best choice possible when you find out how you’re feeling for that day.
[00:13:35] Dannelle: Jenn, can you share a little more about what anticipatory grief looks like? Because some of us have heard that term, but one of the challenges of walking through this experience is this learning how to talk about it because there’s a whole language involved that we learn on the fly. So, can you share a little bit more about what does that look like? What does that mean? What are we grieving?
[00:13:58] Jenn: I can speak on a personal level for my anticipatory grief. I first learned about it when I was enrolled in a support group. But anticipatory grief is basically you’re anticipating the grief of the person you’re taking care of. In the sense of my example, it’s anticipating in my grandma’s death. You’re grieving the process of what’s going to happen.
[00:14:19] So, in my scenario it was towards the end of the last 10 years, my grandma was diagnosed with stage four cancer wound and then she had to be in hospice. And what that means is the doctor says “you have six months left to live”. So, at that point it’s real. This a real thing, the doctor has said grandma’s probably going to die in six months. In that position, you’re getting ready to grieve somebody that you love for so long. How do I handle all the feelings that come with this?
[00:14:45] I think we typically learn about grief after somebody dies. Like, okay, when somebody dies, you’re going to go through this mourning process. You’re grieving the loss of somebody. But knowing that they’re going to die before they’re even dead is a whole ‘nother emotional rollercoaster. Having to anticipate your readiness level, right? Your anger or your frustration or maybe you want to do more, like how can I make this person live longer? Maybe feeling at a loss of control, like I can’t control this process. I’ve been helping so long, this is out of my control – learning how to deal that.
[00:15:16] And then also learning how to deal with acceptance. Going from denial of “no, this is not going happen, I’m going to do everything I can”. And then accepting the situation is out of my control. And how do I accept the present day? How can I make the most quality, of our time left together? And that takes time. Just to accept death and even verbalizing out loud, that takes a lot of energy and acceptance with oneself too, if not just for yourself, but just to inform the family.
[00:15:44] I mentioned family values before, I was in the seat where I had to tell all of my family members, “this is happening”, I’m signing all the paperworks and it’s tough. So, not only are you dealing with the grief of the person that you’re anticipating the loss of, you also have to explain that to everybody this is happening. Sometimes you may have to take on the additional responsibility of helping with other people’s anticipatory grief.
[00:16:07] I think, with other caregivers in their scenario for the person that they’ve taken care of it can also be the anticipatory grief of losing the adult-child dynamic, the role reversal. You look to your parent, or the person who raised you, to give you guidance. But somehow because of the caregiving dynamic and the condition, the role reverses. Now you have to make the decisions for your older adult, and so you’re grieving that relationship, now it’s a little bit different.
[00:16:32] It can really look unique to everybody’s situation, I really want to say that, but sometimes it’s losing the person, they’re actually going to be gone physically, or you’re actually losing that relationship. What was that dynamic before? And it’s going to change and dependent on the condition. You can be constantly grieving the dynamic of who your loved one used to be. And do you want to hold on to that, or do you want to let that go, and do you want to be present? So, it really depends on going back to everybody’s readiness level. And I always say, it’s your time, make the best choice of the time that you have, and all your feelings are valid. Whatever ride you’re on with anticipatory grief, your feelings are valid.
[00:17:10] Dannelle: So, whatever it is – it may be loss of our person, it may be loss of the relationship dynamic. It could be all of those things. Getting to the place of acceptance helps us to be more present with our loved one, where they are in that moment. So, if we’re aware that what we’re experiencing, what were feeling, is anticipatory grief, then that helps us get to that place where the time that we have is more quality time, more meaningful. So thank you so much for elaborating on that Jenn.
[00:17:46] You talked about at the beginning of our conversation, the idea of identity and your experience and what you’ve learned from other caregivers in your support groups. You emphasize the importance of celebrating our “caregiverhood”, which I love that term that you coined. How did you come up with the idea for The Senior Shower® Project, which is related to this idea of celebrating “caregiverhood” and why is it so important?
[00:18:18] Jenn: I love talking about “caregiverhood”! [Laughs] And it’s important. I thought of “caregiverhood” as a really important time to celebrate when a person enters into the caregiver role. That’s basically what I mean by “caregiverhood”. I think in life there’s so many life milestones from your birthday to your anniversaries, and there are bat mitzvahs, quinceañeras [Laughs] and say you get married, there’s bridal showers, you get pregnant, there’s baby showers. There’s so many points in time to celebrate life and these are important roles you’re stepping into: coming age, becoming a partner, you’re entering parenthood.
[00:18:57] These are all major roles that comes with new responsibilities. And I thought, wow, caregiving, that is a big role, [Laughs] now that is a really big role and it should be a rite of passage because going back to my family values, you want to be able to teach generation from generation that caregiving exists. So, for me, I thought there is something to celebrate in life is to celebrate people taking care of other people. It’s to celebrate humanity, it’s to celebrate caregiving and let’s name it “caregiverhood”. You’re embarking on a new journey called “caregiverhood” and I think you deserve a party ‘cause it seems like all the other celebrations have a party, so why not have a party?
[00:19:35] So with that, I decided to start my company called Senior Shower® Project, which is to have a party specifically to celebrate caregivers of older adults. And so, with senior shower, I took the concept of a baby shower, which is a celebration for parenthood, and I said, well, that’s the party for the beginning of life, taking care of a dependent person. Well, let’s flip it. Let’s flip the script. Let’s have a party for those who take care of another dependent person, right? – at the later stages of life. Have you taken care of older adults? Let’s call it a senior shower. Let’s shower the new caregiver that’s taking care of an older adult with a party and celebrate by bringing community together. And at that point in time that this rite of passage party could be where people can share their caregiving stories, share their caregiving advice and share their tools and all the resources that they used during their caregiver journey so that we can set up a new caregiver for success.
[00:20:30] Again, this is the entry into “caregiverhood” so we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Let’s give the caregiver everything that’s available and then also recognize their identity. Now you are a caregiver. Now your community, your family and friends know you’re a caregiver. So, they’re now your eyes and ears. If they find any other caregiver things like say this podcast, right? Or a book or a movie, they can then bring it to the caregiver and say, “hey, this might help you”. So, I feel like it’s creating a new tradition that brings family and friends together for this journey of “caregiverhood”. And you start out with a splash with a party. [Laughs]
[00:21:09] Dannelle: Y’all isn’t that awesome? It’s just the most awesome idea to me and the fact that it’s this right of passage party. You’re bringing family and friends together. It can become part of your family story. It’s an opportunity to hear about family stories, family caregiving stories, that might not otherwise be known or shared. So, it’s huge. I love it.
[00:21:37] Jenn: Thank you so much.
[00:21:38] Dannelle: Jenn, you talked about one of the questions that younger caregivers will ask ourselves, “when do I get my time to build my life?” and in closing, we’d love to hear more about what part of your life are you now passionate about reclaiming?
[00:21:59] Jenn: Oh, this is a personal question Dannelle. I would say right now, what I am passionate about reclaiming for time is to do family planning. I like to say that my life has gone into reverse. I started off with “caregiverhood” in my mid-twenties, and now I’m really passionate about pursuing my own parenthood, my own motherhood. I know. It’s very exciting. I feel like I got some skills. I did a fair share of diapers for adults. So hopefully as I explore this path, I will be pretty good with diapers for babies. [Laughs] So reclaiming that time. I feel in some weird way it is thinking, “no, maybe this was it. I had my training with a bigger size adult and now hopefully that will help me with a smaller version”. So I would say, I’m reclaiming my time to really pursue family planning, motherhood, parenthood with the wisdom that I got from “caregiverhood”.
[00:22:58] Dannelle: Wow. Well, we can’t wait – this transformation from “caregiverhood” to motherhood for you. Jenn Chan, thank you so much for joining us.
[00:23:10] Jenn: Thank you for having me on here Dannelle.
[00:23:15] Dannelle (Recorded): Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jenn Chan. As Jenn mentions, both Compassion Fatigue and Caregiver Burnout can happen when we bear stress or trauma without sufficient relief or release from that stress. When I was in a care partner position, I experienced what it was like to hit the compassion wall, and I also saw it happen in real time to some of the professional caregivers who were exhausted from caring for too many patients, for too long, without a break.
[00:23:55] One of the times was when I spent days in rehab with my father-in-law, who had Parkinson’s. He’d had several falls in a very short period of time and would continue to walk without his walker when I stepped out of the room. We were also dealing with cognitive decline at that point, so reasoning with him was not working and the nurses were so frustrated with managing his repeated falls that they ended up keeping him inside the nurses’ station that was in the middle of the hallway. So, not only did I feel unearned guilt about his (thank goodness) minor injuries from falling, but also a kind of resigned lack of compassion in the moment, which was really sad for both of us.
[00:24:52] No matter how strong we are, or how much we care about someone, the nature of caregiving is that we are testing our emotional guts in a way few of us are prepared for and these experiences can be isolating and overwhelming, which is why Jenn is a huge advocate for support groups to provide the kind of company and release we need to stay ok.
[00:25:25] Jen is an amazing role model for how to honor positive family values while also nurturing her own personal dreams. We love her creative joy and inspiration to celebrate caregiverhood through the Senior Shower® Project. You can also check out her delightful caregiver cards linked in the show notes to brighten up the day of a caregiver in your life.
[00:25:54] In my conversation with Jen, I found the following thoughts to be most powerful:
[00:26:01] 1. Millennial caregivers generally walk a very different journey than older counterparts. Many are holding off or limiting dating, career, social life, and personal goals while taking care of a loved one.
[00:26:19] 2. Creating connections with other young caregivers is so important for emotional health. Finding support groups, educational workshops, and community resources can help develop self-care routines and navigate unfamiliar caregiving territory.
[00:26:39] 3. Although it affects many, anticipatory grief can be hard to put a finger on. It can manifest as anger, sadness, frustration, or a loss of control. Being able to name it and identify the loss (of personal time, career opportunity, social life, etc.) in that moment can clarify the root of our emotions. With clarity, we can begin to accept what we cannot change.
[00:27:13] Consider how the following actions could help address your needs as a care partner or care partners you may support:
[00:27:22] 1. Seek out spaces – whether virtual or in person – that help you feel less alone. A supportive friendship, young caregivers group, or educational workshop are a few ways to consider building the kind of connections that keep us in balance.
[00:27:43] 2. Invest in what helps you feel better (physically, emotionally, spiritually) to care for yourself. It might not look the same as it did before caregiving, but you’re worthy of being looked after, too.
[00:28:02] 3. Celebrate the caregivers in your life! Jenn has created the Senior Shower® Project to lift up and honor caregivers and caregiverhood. Let’s act on showing how much we appreciate the work of caregiving.
[00:28:21] For more information on Jenn and the Senior Shower® Project, check out our show notes.
[00:28:28] Every episode of The Caregiving Soul has a page on empoweredus.org, where you can find the extended show notes – including tips and takeaways, transcripts, and relevant resource links.
[00:28:43] If you’d like to share your own tips related to this topic or connect with us, visit the Empowered Us Contact page or reach out to us on our social channels.
[00:28:56] The Caregiving Soul is an Empowered Us Original presented by Good Days, hosted by me, Dannelle LeBlanc. If you liked this episode, be sure to rate and subscribe to this show wherever you get your podcasts.
[00:29:13] And remember, the right care includes care for you.
[00:29:24] [Music Ends]
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