Taking care FOCUS ON: ‘Caring for the Caring’

 - Cynthia Woolbright
— image credit: Cynthia Woolbright

While Behle Torset is busy in the kitchen sorting pills into a small plastic organizer, her husband, Bill, sits at the kitchen table with a spoon in hand and a bowl of cereal in front of him. His neck is slightly stretched forward. He has an arm raised and the spoon is about half the distance it should be to his mouth. He appears almost frozen as his gaze locks on the task.

This is why a typical dinner lasts a minimum of two hours at the Torset house. This is everyday life for Behle and Bob.

In a soft, rasping voice, Bob asks for a new spoon. Maybe a different one will help.

“What size?” Behle asks.

“About the same,” Bob replies.

While sipping coffee, Bob later explains his dilemma.

“I have a heck of a time staying awake,” he said. “I’ll fall asleep at the dinner table in my mashed potatoes.”

Bob was diagnosed 18 years ago with Parkinson’s Disease. Behle is his full-time caregiver. The Torsets are one of two couples featured in a documentary that its filmmaker hope gives people new awareness to a group of silent heroes — caregivers.

The documentary, “Caring for the Caring,” will premiere Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland. The film is directed by Freeland resident Doug Dirkson and produced by Clinton resident Ev Moore.

Both members of Trinity Lutheran, Dirkson and Moore became interested in a project on caregivers through conversation and observation of their own congregation.

“I realized how uninformed everyone was in terms of caregivers and yet it’s a growing issue with the boomers growing up,” Dirkson said.

Moore considers the work her calling now that she’s seen the need.

After meeting with caregivers and a caregivers support group in Oak Harbor, Dirkson began filming in February 2004. During a five-month period, Dirkson visited the homes of two families — the Torsets, and Rita and Dale Lambert, all of Oak Harbor — to film in segments of the everyday lives of two wives and the husbands who depend on their care.

Dirkson worked to capture the 24-hour, seven-day a week job of the caregiver; there is no hour in the day when the caregivers are not on call.

“I was never quite sure while filming how 40 hours of filming are going to fit into a 48 minute documentary,” Dirkson said.

Dirkson is an acting veteran who worked in commercials, television and film starting in 1969. He began shooting what he calls docu-dramas on Whidbey in 1999 as educational projects with local schools. In the films the students brainstormed the scripts and acted while Dirkson directed pieces he considers more commentaries on life than capturing life itself.

“Documentaries can help make a difference,” Dirkson said. “People can either make decision and live their lives out of awareness or or ignorance, I’d like to help make them aware.”

Film shows a dailyreality unseen

It’s often past noon by the time Rita Lambert can interject a moment in her day to have a shower. Her mornings are tied to Dale having breakfast, making sure he takes his medications and brushes his teeth.

The Lamberts are introduced in the documentary with a bold-faced white statement on a screen of black: “Dale is in the last stages of Alzheimer’s.” Then another: “Rita, his wife, has just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She is his full-time caregiver.”

Rita compares being a caregiver to having a child again. But unlike raising a child, things aren’t going to get better, Rita Lambert said.

She talks of her worries over her MS and not being able to take care of her husband — and herself. She has seven legions on the brain and is afraid of the progress they are making.

In another section of the documentarty, Behle Torset talks of the need to sometimes clean the kitchen floor four to five times a day because of the mealtime spills and splashes occur due to Bob’s motor skill difficulties. In an interview in the documentary, Behle appears upbeat, but said the 24-hour responsibility is wearing on her. She goes on to talk about having the flu, being unable to shake it, and months later being it was actually bronchitis.

“There’s such a physical and emotional toll on these people and I wanted to give the audience an understanding of that,” Dirkson said. “Afterward I want them to feel like they too can do something about it.”

Moore and Dirkson have extended the project and done a little research of their own on the resources available on Whidbey Island for caregivers and see a need for a support network, Moore said.

“These caregivers and others like them keep from asking for help themselves,” Moore said. “Dialogue is needed to let them know its alright to ask for help.”

Caring for the Caring is now also the name of a caregiver ministry group that meets the first Tuesday of each month at 1 p.m. at Trinity. Volunteers meet with caregivers to learn of their needs and give any assistance they can. The group meets monthly to discuss how and whether the on-going needs of caregivers on the island are being meet and how they can be supported. There are guest speakers; soon, there may be social gatherings where caregivers can come together for support. Already, there have been over two dozen volunteers working with caregivers through the ministry, Moore said.

Moore hopes to get other island churches involved in the caregiver support and wants to see an island-wide support network organized by the churches.

Dirkson hopes the film gives people a new knowledge of the life of a caregiver and a little motivation to help them out.

“Everybody is effected by this,” Moore said. “If you’re not a caregiver you will be, have been or will be taken care of.”

The film was finished in August and was first shown to the Trinity Lutheran congregation in September. It is now being distributed in two 48-minute versions — one faith based, the other community based — to care facilities, caregiver support groups and seniors organizations on and off Whidbey. It has already been endorsed by senior housing facility Home Place in Oak Harbor and the Alzheimer’s Foundation, which is distributing it to Alzheimer’s associations across the country. PBS is interested, Dirkson said, and there’s even the possibility of a follow-up documentary in the future.

“We feel now our work here isn’t finished. There’s other stories to be told,” he said.

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