LOS ANGELES — Her hands pulsed with pain as she tried, once more, to tug a pair of super-tight socks over her husband's toes and up his swollen legs. The compression socks would help his circulation, she reminded herself. They would help keep him out of the hospital.
Helen Wynne — the fulltime caregiver for her husband — took a deep breath and yanked. But a twinge crawled up her fingers and reverberated in her joints, a feeling she knew well after years of living with lupus and arthritis.
She sat on the floor of her South L.A. home crying and looking up at her frail, then-89-year-old husband, Harel, a Korean War veteran, who leaned down to help but couldn't reach his feet.
"I can't do it!" Wynne remembers crying out.
It was around that time last fall — during the days of back-to-back ER visits, when she started to feel lightheaded from stress — that the 67-year-old Wynne decided to follow up about the pamphlet she'd picked up during a recent church event. On a Tuesday morning a year ago, she arrived at the support group for caregivers that, before the pandemic, met twice a month at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church.
I'm Helen, she told the group, and I'm a caregiver for my husband, who has Alzheimer's. When I have to remind him to eat or nap, she told the women around the wooden table, I feel like I'm caring for a child again.
The group's leader, Bobbe Akalonu, offered an encouraging nod.
"Welcome to the caregiver world," she said.
The dynamic Akalonu, 86, who wears a signature black hat and reminds you, with a smile, that she's "vintage, not old," leads the support group that now meets via conference call.
Akalonu started the group in 2014 as a collaboration between First AME, the city's oldest African American church, and USC's Family Caregiver Support Center, one of 11 state-funded caregiver resource centers, which she learned about years earlier while caring for her mother, who had vascular dementia.