(C) Carolyn P Hartley
Gut-wrenching, rip-your-heart-out tragedies catapulted April Koontz into a vision for the national organization she founded, Daughters Unite.
April is confronting the secrecy of being a caregiver for her brother with mental illness/drug dependencies. She offers her story not only to help others but also to encourage families who constantly face the imbalance of tough love with family love.
The call on August 14, 2010 ripped April’s life when her parents called to say her brother died from an accidental overdose. Her father was still in the brother’s bedroom, administering CPR when she arrived.
With one arm still in a sling from shoulder surgery, April went immediately into protective mode after the emergency team left, needing to reclaim herself and patch the family’s wounded hearts. Transitioning from her brother’s care manager to family protector, she moved her brother’s car into a neighbor’s garage; deleted his phone number from her parent’s phone, stripped his bed and removed many personal belongings.
As if God had selected her to be the family care advocate, April and her mother were called Christmas 2014 from their homes in the Carolinas to St. Louis to help her aunt who had suffered deep gashes and a broken ankle in a house fall. When they arrived, April discovered her aunt and uncle with Alzheimer’s were hoarders, living in an unnavigable split level home.
“The next five days were the most intense of my life,” April recalls. She secured durable power of attorney; and then, sifted through the mishmash of clutter to find legal, banking, and medical documents. Using her smart phone’s camera, the only mobile app immediately available to her, April began photographing critical documents. For the next two years, she moved her aunt and uncle closer to family and helped them rebuild their lives. Inspired by love and a lot of training, April balanced work and client technology requests with family needs.
“I never thought of myself as being a caregiver,” she says. “I was the oldest daughter who happened to be a social worker. I knew I was acting as a care manager by overseeing my brother’s hospitalizations and discharges; securing a safe environment for family, etc., but I didn’t identify as a caregiver.” In fact, April only started owning the term ‘caregiver’ after attending a workshop sponsored by a team of elder care advisors. There, she learned that ‘daughters’ are typically the ones who find themselves in the primary caregiver role and, according to one Metlife study, step into a negative inheritance of over $320,000. They step out of the workforce, give up promotions, no longer generating income to care for a loved one.
Caregiving sprays us into a state of paralysis, she adds. Who do we talk to when we don’t even know we are a caregiver? What happens when the caregiving role turns tragic?
“If only I could take my knowledge from and experience in health IT and create a platform where daughters nationwide can unite and help save each other time, money and our sanity. It’s about daughters who’ve walked the caregiving journey who now help daughters currently walking it and those who’ll walk it in the future. That’s my dream and mission. To unite my daughter tribe. Men do a tremendous job in caregiving as well. They face many of the same challenges and we certainly will do everything we can to support them, but I have to bring these women together first.”
April is also passionate about end-of-life planning and a fan of “Death Dinners,” a chance for the family to celebrate life, make it something not afraid to talk about. “We’re all going to die. Let’s talk about what you value, and what you want to happen when you die.” The takeaway from these dinners is a family’s chance to say, “We are a tribe, here. I love you. I have your back. If you were to die tomorrow, how can your tribe honor you?
“I hold a Masters Degree in Social Work and still didn’t identify with the term, Caregiver. At DaughtersUnite.com, we put content and support out there to reach daughters who have yet to identify with the clinical term. There’s a plethora of caregiving material available that I didn’t know existed when I needed it.