Mt. Airy support group helps caretakers work through their struggles

When Jean Kirkley lost her husband Roy to kidney failure, she found it hard to get out of bed in the morning.

The pair of Germantown High School grads had been happily married for more than a decade. Without her longtime partner, Jean felt forlorn and broken.

She was also exhausted. Jean had spent more than two years tirelessly caring for her ailing husband, constantly ushering him in and out of hospitals and rehabilitation centers.

Last December, nearly three years after her husband’s death, Kirkley launched Boomers ‘R Heroes to help her work through her grief by helping others charged with caring for loved ones.

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The Mount Airy-based support group aims to help people struggling to juggle their caretaking responsibilities with the rest of their lives.

“You’ve got your job, you’ve raised your children or are perhaps raising children or grandchildren and now you have to take on your parents too and make sure they get what they need,” said Kirkley, who unexpectedly met Roy at a New Year’s Eve party.

Kirkley started the group as a conduit for resources to help people help themselves through difficult times. During meetings, speakers address issues on a wide range of topics, including caregiver wellness and patient care, and information on housing, pharmaceuticals and medical services.

Kathy Sutton, a grade school friend of Kirkley’s, initially opened up her shop on Germantown Avenue to the group. It was the least she could do.

“When [Roy] got sick, I was proud of my friend for the way she stood by her husband,” said Sutton. “Imagine having your husband in the hospital almost two and a half years and you go in almost every single day. This was really a difficult situation and she hung in there.”

Kirkley is currently holding meetings inside her North Philadelphia Church, the North Penn Baptist Church.

With the support of Sutton, Kirkley continues to try to expand the program, hoping to become a part of the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging and hold classes throughout the city. She’s using her website and other marketing strategies to expand the group.

“She’s working on this and it gives her purpose and this is her therapy,” Sutton said. “I think if you can have this therapy for yourself and help other people as well, it’s a great thing. I see how it’s making her happy and I hope that something more becomes of it.”

Whatever the future may bring, Jean keeps her husband in her heart all the time to keep her inspired and motivated.

“I feel like I’m helping [people] and am able to light the way and make them understand they’re not crazy,” she said. “The feelings you feel are real and it’s OK to express yourself freely – that’s why we’re here.”

The next Boomers ‘R Heroes meeting will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on April 19 at North Penn Baptist Church, 2419 N. 27th Street. 

Becky Kerner and Kris Kitts are students at Temple University. Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a NewsWorks content partner, is an initiative of the Temple Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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