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Kerri Hanlon: The Gift Of Caring For The Caregiver

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -  I walk through the lobby, but this time rather than showing the Security Guard my Parent's badge, I scan my Volunteer ID. I pass the Emergency Room and head to the elevators. I look for the markers – blue wrist bands for parents, orange wrist bands for those staying at the Ronald McDonald House; badges with various medical specialties, therapies and services. As I wait for the elevator to arrive I say a silent prayer for all of them – that they may provide skilled care, parental love, compassion and healing for the little ones on the floors above.

When the elevator arrives, I enter and hit 7. It always brings back chills. 7 isn't good – it means Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Not 8, where it could be a respiratory infection we're waiting to clear. Not 4 or 5 where we're recovering from surgery. 7 means we need the highest level of care. The words of one Pediatric Attending questioning his Residents during rounds still rings in my ears - "I'm not asking why he needs to be in the hospital, because clearly he does. I'm asking why he needs to be in the ICU, where he's receiving the highest level of care. And clearly he needs that, but I need to hear from you the why."

I turn off the elevator and head to a small room that will be my workspace for the next hour. It is here that I will lead yoga for any parent or caregiver who wishes to join.

I trust the practice, knowing that if parents have just a few moments to move some tension from their bodies, exhale some of the stagnant energy and set intention for even the next few hours, it is enough. It doesn't really matter if we roll out mats or sit on the tiny playroom chairs. Sometimes we do a gentle stretch, sometimes a more vigorous practice and sometimes we just lay in a resting pose and have a guided meditation. The practice unfolds based on who shows up. At a time when the parent's focus is likely solely on their child, gracing them with what they need during these few precious moments is key.

I've been in their shoes. My son, Sean, was a "frequent flyer" at CHOP. Having been there for pneumonias, surgeries and other illnesses over his 19 years, we got to know the people and space. I was always struck by one thing – there was always someone who was there for a shorter duration, and there was always someone who was there longer. Sean's longest stretch was 41 days, which seemed like an eternity. Until we saw the sign in someone's window "Day 187".

I remember what it was like to sleep/not sleep on the chair-beds. My husband and I always did a little happy dance when Sean had a single room and we got the window bench bed. It was like winning the lottery but having to pay taxes. The good news was you could get your body flat to sleep, the bad news was it often meant your child had something infectious that required him to be in isolation.

I remember feeling like hours and days would pass and I hadn't felt the fresh air on my skin or the sun on my face. My body was worn, my spirit depleted. Every available resource was focused on Sean – helping support his care, trying to keep his spirits up.

I remember the kindness of so many people there. The woman who sang to Sean while she cleaned his room. The PICU Nurse who not only took care of Sean's many medical needs, but gave him a post-surgical shampoo session worthy of any Salon. The Physician who told us it was time to let Sean go. Their kindness and compassion was everything.

I work to bring that kindness and compassion with me when I lead Yoga for Caregivers. I listen. I hold space. I hold intentions for healing of their children and peace of mind for them long after our yoga session is over.

I'll confess, every week when I drive down, my heart rate increases and anxiety creeps in. I know enough about trauma to know that the experiences I've had and witnessed with Sean still live in my body.

So why put myself through it?

I do it because when Sean was there, there was no such program. I believe in the power of yoga and mindfulness to bring healing. If I can help a parent have just one moment – one moment – of peace of mind, it's worth it. And I know that this is also part of my journey, my healing process. Aren't we all in this together?

Kerri Hanlon is a mother, writer and co-founder of Yoga Home in Conshohocken. She shares her experiences so others know they are not alone. She can be reached at

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