CircleOf is an app designed for and by caregivers, so we wanted you to get to know the team beyond the technology. This week we meet Kerry Lange, who joined the team in July 2021 as COO and Chief Evangelist.
Beginning in 2016, a series of seismic losses shook Kerry’s world and enlightened her to understand just how much support it can take – physical, emotional and pragmatic – to care for a loved one who is ill. The losses also transformed her life in other ways – from inspiring her to make a career change to getting permanent reminders of people she loved and lessons she’s learned.
CircleOf: You suffered three major losses in a short period of time.Tell us about what happened.
Kerry: My father died first of lung cancer in July of 2016. Shortly after that, my mom died of ovarian cancer on her birthday in January 2017. Then, my stepfather died of multiple myeloma in December 2017.
CircleOf: Who did the caregiving for your family while they were ill?
Kerry: My brother and I both lived in different states from our parents so we were lucky that my parents had family nearby. My aunts and uncles on both sides of the family helped out quite a bit.
My stepmom was the primary caregiver for my dad. My Mom and stepfather cared for each other while they could, but they were sick at the same time so my aunts nearby helped quite a bit. I would visit when I could, sometimes going to the doctor with them, and I was able to spend the last month of my Mom’s life living with them.
It was complicated because my stepfather had a bone marrow transplant shortly before my mom died, which meant he had to be in quarantine in a separate part of the house. His granddaughter came in to take care of him.
Multiple family members were there and helped make food and just tried to manage the day-to-day things that came up. There were church people who came by and brought meals and helped out too.
CircleOf: What kind of help do you wish your family had that you didn’t have?
Kerry: We were lucky that there were retired family members nearby who had the time and ability to help so my brother and I didn’t have to disrupt our lives to be there all the time. I recognize that not everybody has that, and not everybody can afford to take time off and go to doctor’s appointments with someone who is ill.
It would have been so helpful for us to have had a centralized place to track and communicate the status of where things were, what was being taken care of, and what we needed, and just emotionally connect with people in our inner circle and community, instead of the hodge-podge way of doing things. I remember sitting with my stepfather and his spreadsheet of medications – wow, it was a lot to manage!
CircleOf: How do you find that sharing lessons learned about caregiving is valuable for others?
Kerry: Most of my friends haven’t lost parents yet, but I’ve been able to share some of my experiences with those who have recently, and I think it’s helped them a lot. My grandmother recently passed away, and my stepmom and uncles all learned a lot from taking care of my dad, and that helped when it came to caring for my grandmother. I think we can learn with each experience and that information can help us get better at caregiving. Sharing those experiences with others can make it faster and easier for them to learn from us.
CircleOf: How did all of this affect you professionally – in your career?
Kerry: I had been doing freelance work in the agency world, and the death of my parents made me realize that I wanted to have more purpose in my life. The next year I joined Reimagine, a nonprofit that helps to break down taboos about how we face and talk about death and dying.
I joined CircleOf this year because I saw the caregiving experiences that my family went through, and I realized that not everybody has family nearby. I thought if I could help someone be able to be more present and available for their loved ones – less worried about how they were going to get things done – I wanted to help people have that.
CircleOf: What are some of the other ways this experience transformed you?
Kerry: Well, my mom wouldn’t love it, but I have three tattoos that are visible reminders, not only of the experience itself, but of what I carry forward from it.
I have a compass tattoo on my right wrist for my father because he inspired me to travel, and explore, and be curious. My stepsister and I got our tattoos on the Father’s Day after he died.
I have an owl tattoo for my mom. There was an owl that lived in her backyard, and I would go and chat with it every time I visited. I had a conversation with it the morning that my mom died – it was a beautiful connection. It left shortly after that – it just flew away and never came back.
The third one says, “This too shall pass.” I got that a few years later to remind me that when life is really hard, that this is going to change. Also, when things are going really well, things are going to change. It’s a reminder to me to just be present and that life is ever changing.
In more of an internal way, my experiences around death and caregiving helped me recognize that I can’t control everything, and to be comfortable with things unfolding naturally, and with vulnerability — it really tapped into a vulnerable space inside me where I realized I could show that I was hurting and didn’t have to have it all under control, it was okay to ask for help and let people in.Tough lesson to learn, but totally worth it.