Sandy Concar: Caring For Her Paralyzed Son Taught Her How To Take Care Of Herself
Sandy Concar was used to being in control of her life and her family’s. She found comfort in having a Plan A, B and even C. When, while raising two teenagers and working 14-hour days as a school bus driver and mail carrier, she needed to move her displaced mother into their home, Concar’s competence kept everyone and everything afloat.
Her kids grew up and forged independent lives. She helped her mom get reestablished in an apartment. Concar and her husband, Ron, empty-nesters at last, were reconnecting after years of responsibility, steering their motorcycle or hiking through the Great Smoky Mountains two hours from their Wake Forest, N.C., home.
“I masterminded my whole life,” Concar says, “until Keith’s accident.”
Her son, Keith, was 27 and on his second Hurricane Katrina volunteer stint, having stashed his belongings in storage and moved to New Orleans. There he spent his days ripping wet drywall and shoveling debris out of ravaged homes, and his nights sleeping on a classroom floor. En route to a job site, he was doing 55 mph on his motorcycle when the Jeep pulled out. Keith’s resulting spinal cord injury returned him to his mother’s care, ultimately leading Concar to what she considers her life’s purpose: supporting those who support others through her mentoring business CareGiverSanity.
“Is he still alive?”
This was Concar’s first reaction upon receiving the phone call, followed by, “Everything else, we can take care of.” That she did, shifting into organizational high gear and staying in it for a year and a half, shuttling Keith to doctor’s appointments, researching therapies, addressing financial issues and retrofitting the family home for wheelchair accessibility.
No time to feel
Concar was looking for answers to heal Keith when an alternative medicine practitioner gently told her, “You need the healing first.” Using EFT, or Emotional Freedom Techniques, Concar tapped specific body acupressure points with her fingertips, causing a “Niagara Falls” of tears as she released pent-up anger and grief. She was, she realized, in control of everybody’s life but her own.
Self-care as a priority
Caregivers aren’t necessarily good at receiving care, even from themselves. For many, Concar says, it traces back to old family rules the likes of “You don’t take the last piece of pie in case someone else wants it.” Healing meant putting herself at the top of her to-do list. Task No. 1: Get out of bed and shower before checking on Keith, which would spiral into task-tending and only getting around to showering at 4 p.m.
Her healing process
Concar says she was not raised to have a career vision. “By age 25, I’d reached my dream: I had the husband, the two kids, the dog, the house, the picket fence. I said, ‘Now, what do I want to do with the rest of my life?’” Keith’s accident brought the answer. “When I began to heal, I saw so many other caregivers in distress,” she says. “Sure, I wish Keith’s accident hadn’t happened; I would prefer my son to be walking. But it did happen, and there was a reason for it.”
Giving rise to the reason
Two years of practicing self-care after her watershed EFT experience and with Keith settled in San Diego, Concar started CareGiverSanity, at first doing workshops and later adding mentoring: complimentary 30-minute CareGiver Chats via phone or Skype, followed, as desired, by extended one-on-one mentoring and access to a private Facebook support group. Her clients care for aging parents, family members with disabilities, children and other loved ones, and hail from as far away as Canada and France.
Hers isn’t an easy sell. “This audience isn’t good at accepting help,” notes Concar. CareGiverSanity’s program only sticks if clients are willing to concede need. Up first is digging into their “stuff,” which, says Concar, they’ve dodged by concentrating on everybody else’s stuff. She guides them in considering such questions as, What is the benefit of doing everything themselves? Things get done right. The downside? They’re exhausted. After the reflection comes the practice.
Advise a caregiver to go for a walk, says Concar, and they’ll reply, “Yeah, right. Find me 10 minutes.” She promotes taking little steps: cooking a nutritious meal one night a week, looking out the window while drinking a cup of coffee, not rushing home from the grocery store. Little by little, such seemingly minor efforts can add up to having more energy, which makes caregiving easier.
“When I awakened to my need to start feeling me,” Concar says, “I realized that Keith’s accident didn’t just happen to Keith; it happened to each of us.” And what happened to Concar — losing control but gaining a calling — now instills hope in caregivers beyond herself.
Check out Live Better America's Living Forward video series for more inspiring stories of people who have used the wisdom of their experiences to bring meaning to their lives and value to those around them.