Caribou Closing a Buzz Kill

When you are caregiving for an elderly parent, the last person you ever think about giving a break to is yourself. That’s why the simple pleasures – like a daily latte served up with kindness and a friendly query: “How are you doing?” – matter so much.

In the last six months especially, when my mother’s health has been slipping noticeably and when she got served up the big “C-word,” Pat, Jolene, Jeannine, Kathy and the team at Caribou on Dundee in Palatine, have become my re-chargers and angels of mercy. They ask “want your usual? (good thing this is coffee and not a pub), and they hand me the medium skim latte, without my even asking.  Enroute to the hospital and then Loyola's cancer center, I’ve been fortified for the day again and again by their kindness and the extra shot of Expresso they always dole out in my drink.

Recently, when some colleagues asked how we were all dealing in the face of shepherding a parent and grandparent through hospice and so much suffering, I responded by talking about the blessings, the kindnesses and compassion from others I have found in my daily life. I mentioned how such heart-felt people have surrounded me and shown such caring. I talked specifically about the awesome women at Caribou who don’t realize how much a smile and kind word can serve as such a lifeline and have become such a cheer leading team for the tough task of hospital bedside vigilance that daily lies ahead.

It was only this morning, when I hopped out of my car, excited to chat with my coffee compadres, that I realized exactly how much that means to me.

So how does a coffee shop become the oasis for body, mind and spirit? How does a super-charged latte create a calming effect? How do I know that I walk away feeling balanced, recharged and able to walk into my mom’s hospital room and offer the encouragement and spirit needed to create the difference between helplessness and hopefulness?

How do I know? Because this morning, I jumped out of my car for my re-charge and saw the sign: “This Caribou will be closed on April 14.” Right inside of the door, instead of behind the counter, stood Pat and Jeannine. I felt a little in shock. and then they reached out and hugged me. “We saw you coming,” they said in unison. “We’re going to miss this; we’re going to miss you.”

When you’re a caregiver, you’re all about being omnipresent for your loved one. You have to be someone who is rooted and well-balanced and able to give 100 percent (and hide your tears). Perhaps that is why it is so important to find the small, but significant places that help you recharge. Sometimes  you have to be creative to do that.

Overtime, the local Caribou has become a favorite place for not just me but the other regulars I’ve met there. My running group rewards itself there after a trek through the forest on Saturday mornings. I’ve become friends with the moms who work there - Pat, Jolene, Jeannine and Kathy,  moms like me who are struggling to get their kids through college and working hard to make that happen. When they hugged me this morning, my first thought was how much they would be losing. Their salaries pay for their kid's college, travel soccer fees. When you don't make a lot, a little means a lot.

They will lose that "little" that means a lot in their families. But our local community will lose more. There aren’t a lot of places you can go where you start your day seeing the same people and connecting with that feeling of belonging, because as sure as the hardship you might be facing that day, this is the safe place you can hurry into from the darkness.

Caregivers feel isolated, they crave a place to see other fellow humans and feel “normal” for a brief nanosecond of their day and that is what the Caribou in Palatine was for me.

What I want to let Pat, and Kathy, and Jolene and Jeannine know is that I am grateful for the pick me up they offered every morning.  Their kindness and compassion offered me a place to be still in a world that is spinning out of control.

There’s a lot of loss right now in my life. But,  it will be a particularly painful and precious loss when Caribou locks the doors and turn off the lights on April 14.  Thank you Pat, Jeannine, Jolene and Kathy. I will miss your daily dose of smiles,  you gave me the jolt I needed everyday to face what lies ahead. Miss you.



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