Peer Mentor Spotlight Blog: Larry Eastman

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on April 16, 2019 # PFSP

What does it mean to be a mentor? Many would describe this role as being an experienced and trusted advisor. For Peer & Family Support Program mentor Larry Eastman, being a mentor goes beyond this simple definition.

Larry has taken on many roles in his life: employee for the federal government, loving husband and father, caregiver, and now peer mentor. With so much life experience, Larry brings a wealth of knowledge wherever he goes, including in his mentoring. His main goal is to take his experiences and use them to give back to the paralysis community by helping spouses in their transition to caregivers.

Larry’s wife, Helen, was diagnosed with progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS) 15 years ago. As Helen’s MS progressed and she had to transition to being in a wheelchair full-time, Larry retired from his job to become his wife’s full-time caregiver. With this transition, Larry’s routine looks a little different now compared to how he and Helen used to live a decade ago.

“My typical day involves everything from stretching her every morning for about 20 minutes, doing all of her transfers in and out of bed, to the bathroom, and to her office chair at work,” said Larry. “Because I’m home, I do all the things around the house, so it’s a full-time day. I like to run and workout when I can, but really everything revolves around my responsibilities to care for Helen, so I have to make sure those things get done first.”

Although this sounds like an overwhelming task for just one person, Larry didn’t find it too difficult stepping into the caregiving role for Helen. “It does require a great deal of time, but I’m a homebody kind of person, and I always did things around the house anyway, so it’s just doing that stuff all the time now,” said Larry.

Even with Larry tackling his responsibility as a caregiver head-on, he and Helen still face challenges. For Larry, one of the hardest aspects is witnessing firsthand what his wife goes through, and coping with the physical and emotional toll of being a caregiver.

“I think that one of the hardest things is just seeing the physical changes in the person with this disease, and having to accept those changes,” said Larry. “The fact is, being a caregiver is very challenging. It’s emotionally challenging because you’re seeing your loved one in the situation they’re in, but it’s also physically challenging because you’re the one who is always on the go.”

With the driving desire to help others in similar situations, Larry and Helen were asked by the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, where Helen does therapy and wellness activities if they would consider getting involved with the Reeve Foundation as mentors for the Peer & Family Support Program. The couple is a mentoring duo, with Larry mentoring caregivers and Helen sharing advice with individuals who have been impacted by paralysis.

Being a peer mentor for a few years now, Larry has found an approach that works best for both him and his peers. For Larry, first and foremost, it’s important that he gets to know his peers and their situations, and vice versa. While he has a lot of advice to give, Larry wants other caregivers to know that he doesn’t have it all figured out... and that’s okay.

“I have some basis for giving advice, but I tell all my peers that I do not have all the answers,” said Larry. “People are very receptive to that. I will do whatever I can to help and guide people, and what I’ve found with most people is that just having somebody to talk to and share experiences with is very beneficial.”

Larry is aware that his situation as a caregiver for his wife may be very different from what some of his peers are going through, but he focuses on commonalities to help his peers as best he can.

“With my situation, because my wife’s disease is progressive we have been able to go along and adapt and make changes, where some of the people I talk to, all of a sudden their world is changed instantly,” said Larry. “I just do what I can. I try to not talk so much, but listen and help them through that.”

For Larry, being a peer mentor is not only rewarding because he gets to impact the lives of those he works with in such a profound way, but because his peers have also changed his life on a personal level.

“The fact is my peers end up helping me too, certainly it’s a two-way street,” said Larry. “They share their experiences and help me every bit as much as I help them, I think I really end up getting mentored as well.”

Even more rewarding for Larry is the long-lasting connections he has made with his peers. Larry keeps up with his peers on a regular basis, and they talk about anything and everything, as friends do, reaching far beyond the topics of being a caregiver.

“Knowing that there is somebody willing to give their time, to listen, offer advice, and make suggestions, I think that’s really valuable,” said Larry. “In mine and my wife’s world, there’s a whole lot of people who have given their time to volunteer, and without these people, Helen wouldn’t be able to do what she’s been able to. That makes me want to imitate this with other people, just helping from the heart in any way I can.”

Within the Peer & Family Support Program, Larry continues to set the standard for what it means to be a great mentor. Serving as a listening ear, an experienced friend to consult, and somebody who is willing to give their time from the heart to help others, Larry instills in his peers the motivation to keep moving forward.

“We would all like to turn the clock back and none of this ever happened, but the fact is this is what it is, and we make the best of it,” said Larry. “I’m thankful to God that I have the ability to do what I do, being a caregiver with a support network to help me get through my situation, and that I have been given the opportunity to help other people.”