Care for the Caregivers

Bossy Spa blog provides readers the emotional support they’ve been missing.

September 2018

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Care for the Caregivers

Photo: Mark Simmons

The Bossy Spa started out as a second home for Deborah Simmons, ’85, and a retreat for her sister, Lynnette Chen. Chen would occasionally travel from Arcata, Calif., to tiny Doss, Texas, to take a break from caring for her husband, who has Alzheimer’s.

“When [my sister] visited me, and I asked how she wanted her eggs fixed for breakfast, she held her head in her hands,” Simmons recalls. “ ‘Just decide,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to make any decisions.’ The Bossy Spa was born, where I decided everything for her whole visit.”

Now that her husband’s condition has deteriorated, Chen can no longer travel. Simmons needed another way to support her sister through the considerable demands of caregiving. So, in October, Simmons transformed the Bossy Spa into a blog. Every day, she posts a reflection and note of support for her sister. Although she writes for an audience of one, her advice is universal — and especially buoyant for caregivers of loved ones with dementia. The letters generally begin with a meditation on nature or an artifact — the crape myrtle or pokeberry on her property, a deformed piece of pottery, an old shed — and end with an instruction: “Figure out a simple way to ask [volunteers] for something realistic that would really help,” she wrote in July.

Many websites offer practical help for caregivers; finding emotional support is often the missing piece. That’s why Chen and Simmons began sharing the Bossy Spa with others. “Often it’s hard to find the words to help caregivers,” Simmons says. “I’m comfortable finding the words.”

Jill Patton, ’03, MA ’04, is a senior editor for Stanford.

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