Daily News Journal, November 18, 2014
MURFREESBORO – Veteran caregiver Karen Hunter-Kowalski was born to take care of her elders, which is why she fits at Mindful Care Adult Day Services.
Hunter-Kowalski replaced Angela Baxter, who served as assistant director since the founding of the organization. Mindful Care was incorporated as Elders First in March 2006; and opened the program in 2007. The program operates out of New Vision Baptist Church in Murfreesboro.
Hunter-Kowalski grew up around older people and preferred Guy Lombardo to The Beatles, which is why she feels so much at home as the new assistant program director at Mindful Care Adult Day Services.
“My dad was 41 and mom was in her late 30s when I was born, and because they both worked, I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house,” she said. “I was a family caregiver for my grandmother in the early 80s, for my mother’s sister in the mid-80s, who was widowed and had no children, and then for my mother for 19 years. Caregiving has been a part of me all my adult life.”
Hunter-Kowalski’s mother lived with her and her husband for six of those caregiving years.
“You know you’re married to the right person when they stick in there with you through all of that and support you,” she noted.
Hired at Mindful Care Just two months after Jamie Watters came on board as program director, Hunter-Kowalski said the two of them work well together.
Caregivers experience an entire range of emotions, Hunter-Kowalski pointed out, who understands all too well what families go through while providing 24/7 care for a loved one. As a longtime caregiver, she said she experienced resentment, guilt, depression and even anger.
“I remember when my mother was about 85, and she said she hoped she lived until she was 100—and I thought, ‘oh, my gosh, I can’t take 15 more years of this.’ And then of course I felt guilty for thinking that. Then we felt guilty when we had to transition her into assisted living. Although we chose the best place we could find, we still felt guilty. I think you experience just about every emotion. And I felt joy, too, especially when I saw how much mom enjoyed being at home.”
The veteran caregiver hopes that more people will volunteer at Mindful Care “because you get back more than you’re giving.”
She enjoys being around people who are literally living in the moment.
“You’re amazed at how quick-witted they can be,” she said. “Sometimes they get confused; then all of a sudden, they come out with this adorable witty statement. It’s a constant surprise. And they are so grateful for the least little thing you do for them. They give so much love and affection, and they want and need love and affection.”
With all of her caregiving experience, Hunter-Kowalski is ready and willing to offer tips to people who are heading toward old age, especially if they have Alzheimer’s in their family.
“Try to get a plan in place before there is a crisis,” she advised. “That’s sometimes a challenge, but you really need to make a plan. I’m also a big believer in nutrition,” she said, adding that in 2013 she earned a health and wellness coaching certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition located in New York City. “And exercise is important—physical and mental exercise. Do these things when you’re 55; don’t wait until you’re 75.
“If someone in your family has dementia, you have to learn to detach yourself emotionally and not take things personally,” she added. “My mother got to the point where she would remember it was my birthday, but she wouldn’t make a big deal about it like she used to. I got to the point where it no longer hurt my feelings. You can’t let your feelings be hurt—and sometimes a loved one with dementia will say hurtful things.”
Hunter-Kowalski says the people with whom she works at Mindful Care often say or do something that reminds her of her mother.
“That makes me feel even closer to them.”
In addition to caregiving, the new assistant director also brings professional experience to the organization. Hunter-Kowalski earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from the University of Memphis and a Bachelor of Science in Education from Loyola University. She has worked in real estate, non-profit management, coaching and continues to do freelance writing and editing.
Of Mindful Care Adult Day Services, Hunter-Kowalski commented that the organization has done amazing work over the last seven years. Of her new position, “I feel like I’ve been here for a long time in a really good way. I feel like I fit in and have known everyone for a long time. I’m very blessed to be here.”