Cyndi Mariner knows first-hand what it is to care for dependent loved ones 24/7 with no experience, few resources, and no time even to breathe.
The Sunnyvale resident watched her mother care for her unwell father. After he passed, Mariner cared for her mother, watching her decline cognitively then physically. Her brother had heart issues and moved in with them.
“Running to doctors’ appointments, the pharmacy, planning and shopping for meals while keeping a watchful eye on Mom became my new way of life,” said Mariner. “Watching the decline of my mom was heartbreaking, and the role of shifting from a daughter to a caregiver, difficult.”
It was an isolating and lonesome responsibility, and Mariner’s lifeline was a walking group for caregivers sponsored by local health organizations. After her mother passed in 2015, Mariner had a vision of using her experience to benefit other overwhelmed caregivers.
Mariner channeled her energy into providing caregivers with what she had lacked—a comprehensive platform of support services enabling them to stay well themselves and be more effective caregivers. She calls it “Breathing Spaces.”
“Call me crazy, but I knew from the very beginning that starting Breathing Spaces is what I was supposed to do,” said Mariner. “Starting a business can be frightening and tiring and exciting simultaneously. But this was a vision that came to life, and I wasn’t going to let it go. It’s my passion!”
Today, Breathing Spaces, with Mariner as founder and CEO, provides ever-expanding, nationwide resources for both family caregivers and professional caregivers. It is where Ann Lucero, a Redwood City resident and former teacher, turned for help in caring for her now 89-year-old mother, recently admitted to a memory care facility.
“Not a day goes by that I’m not doing something for my mother even though she has the support of the facility,” said Lucero.
“Breathing Spaces has been the most emotional support I’ve gotten, as well as the nuts and bolts of caretaking,” said Lucero. “I get ideas and support from other people in similar situations. It’s harder than you would think to get information for caregivers on your own.”
Lucero walks with the Breathing Spaces group at Shoreline Park and participates in facilitated online support groups. Services and resources are free to caregivers.
“I’ve gotten more information through Breathing Spaces than through any medical professional, and I’ve made friends through the groups,” said Lucero. “As you go through all these stages of caregiving, somebody has already been through it and can share with you.
“I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have half the ideas the groups provided me,” continued to Lucero.
“I have dedicated Breathing Spaces to the memory of my mom, and to the heart of all family caregivers,” said Mariner. “We learned how to read and write, to walk and to ride a bike, but never how to care for a loved one or watch them become ill and often times pass away—a journey that we have never been trained for and perhaps one of the most difficult times of our lives.”