Bethany Becker joined the ZCP Board of Directors in April 2021. She is a ZCP Volunteer, Senior Director of Marketing at Plume, and the owner of an adorable puppy called Ned. Here she tells us a bit more about how she got involved with ZCP, her experiences with caregiving, and the opportunities she sees for ZCP in the future.
How did you originally hear about ZCP and what drew you to the organization?
I first read an article about Zen Caregiving Project (then known as Zen Hospice Project) in early 2017 and something immediately clicked with me. The organization and its mission resonated in part due to my own experience with my grandmother’s death in 2015. That was my first time witnessing someone at the end of their life and actively dying. We were very lucky to have in-home hospice, with a comforting nurse who demystified the whole dying process. She transformed the experience for my entire family.
When I learned about Zen Hospice Project, I realized that there was a whole movement around caring for people who were ill or reaching the end of their life, and that was a real revelation for me.
What’s your involvement been with the organization?
Having read the article, I knew I wanted to get involved with the organization in some way. I attended some of ZCP’s courses, including an incredibly powerful Open Death Conversation. In that session, there was a young person dealing with a cancer diagnosis and a resident from the Guest House (the hospice facility that ZCP used to run) who was there with her family. It re-emphasized the importance of the organization’s work.
After that session, I started helping out at workshops and events and volunteered my skills in marketing and strategy to support the office team. I completed my bedside caregiver training through the Volunteer Program in May 2019 and have served as a volunteer caregiver since then.
What excites you about being on the Board and what do you hope to bring to the Board?
Having witnessed the positive impact of the Volunteer Program on both residents and volunteers, I believe strongly in ZCP’s mission to support caregivers. Being part of the Board allows me to give back to the organization in new and important ways and support them in this mission. I try to bring the perspectives of a volunteer, caregiver and marketing professional to my role on the Board.
The organization has gone through change and growth in the last few years, including a change of name and a broadening of scope to include supporting people and their caregivers at all stages of the illness journey. I hope to support this continued development and growth as ZCP evolves. Raising awareness and providing support at the end of someone’s life is vital, but in the time we are living in, caregiving more generally is equally important.
What do you see as the big opportunities for ZCP?
I think ZCP has a very important role to play in raising awareness of the caregiving crisis we are in right now. Professional, clinical and family caregivers who support our society are taking on multiple roles, but their work is often invisible, undervalued and inadequately supported. Caregivers are burning out and don’t have the resources they need to care for themselves or others. Nearly all of us will be caregivers at some point in our lives, so it is crucial to bring awareness to the important, rewarding, challenging and very human work of caring for another person.
Zen Hospice Project played an important role in raising awareness about end of life and palliative care, and pioneered a new and more holistic approach to the dying process. The approach emphasized meeting people where they were and providing emotional and spiritual support beyond pure medical care. It is my hope that Zen Caregiving Project can similarly help change the conversation around caregivers. Caring for a caregiver helps everyone, including the person they’re caring for, their family and their employer.
Over the course of ZCP’s lifetime, the organization has built up a great body of knowledge, resources and practices. There is so much valuable learning and collective experience from the years it has operated, the cohorts of volunteers that have served and the range of teachers that have shaped the organization. This wealth of deep knowledge has led to the development of the Mindful Caregiving Education curriculum that is already being used in many ways across different populations. There is a huge opportunity for ZCP to expand this content to a wider audience that could benefit from its teachings.
How has your experience with ZCP influenced your own caregiving?
For me, the Volunteer Program training was incredibly powerful, as was serving by the bedside in Laguna Honda Hospital. I learned that there often is no “right” thing to do or say. Sometimes you can’t make things better, but the point is being there, fully, for someone in that moment. Just being present.
This experience helped me a lot when I cared for my mother after a very serious neck and back surgery. I was her caregiver for two months and had a totally different level of patience and understanding with my mom than I would have previously. And I also had more patience for myself! My experience with ZCP prepared me to be a better caregiver for others, and that is partly because it taught me to also take care of myself.
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