Life rarely goes precisely as we planned. During the unexpected victories it’s easy to shrug our shoulders and declare, “Ok, not exactly as I predicted but- I’ll take it!” However, in the midst of unexpected challenges we might look out amongst the chaos and wonder “Why? Why Now? Why Me?” At least that’s what I’ve been prone to do at times. I have often been reminded by those who love me most that unfortunate events do not dwell on favoritism- they affect us all at one point or another. We then have the option to either throw a pity party (as I’ve done, until something or someone comes along to let me know it’s time for the party to end) or consider how we can somehow flip these events into unexpected victories for others. Memphian Kathy Lofton chose to do the latter, using a private, painful life-changing circumstance as a conduit to change lives through the power of film.
I was first introduced to Lofton’s work at last year’s Indie Memphis Film Festival where her documentary “Senescence Lost” screened to a full house- with few present who weren’t moved by the emotional subject matter detailing the struggles encountered by caregivers and those for whom they care. Her second film “I Am A Caregiver” was screened this past weekend at an invitation-only event, coinciding with National Family Caregivers Month, observed nationally each November. With two (and a half!) master’s degrees to her name Lofton did not plan to be a voice for caregivers and the challenges they face following the decision to take care of a family member, matriarch, or patriarch. But in 2012 her father had a stroke and when he returned home from rehabilitation Lofton knew, undoubtedly and instinctively, that she would have to step into the role of primary caregiver. What she did not know at the time, but does now, is that she was being prepared- personally and professionally- for such a time as this.
She left her job to become her father’s full-time caregiver in April 2013, realizing only thereafter that her various corporate positions had served all along to align her with the purpose of doing exactly what she’s doing right now. Lofton’s experience as a unit coordinator for a hospital’s surgical unit in the mid-1990s meant that she understood how and when to administer her father’s many medications so that he would experience as little discomfort as possible. Her position in community relations at Blue Cross Blue Shield helped her understand how to bring together various pieces of the medical, insurance, and community puzzle to create a coherent picture both she and her family could clearly see and understand. Her natural creativity converged with her servant’s heart when, while pursuing her Master’s in Public Administration, she asked: “what underserved group can I champion?” She has since become a voice for full-time caregivers through her stories in filmmaking.
“I am my father’s barber, physical therapist, occupational therapist,” she shares. “I’m the cook, I bathe him…amid all of that I worry about finances.” She pauses. “And Mom helps me so I can help him.” Lofton helps plenty of others too, who find themselves in the unplanned and unforeseen position of taking care of a loved one who is no longer capable of caring for himself. “You’re a vessel, whether you know it or not,” she states while explaining that her advocacy for caregivers gained momentum when people in her various circles kept coming to her for advice about the very things that still keep her up at night.Yet she wakes up every day grateful for the opportunity to serve, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by those who have become familiar with her work.
In 2016 Lofton was presented with both the Caregiver of the Year and Public Awareness Award by The Arc Mid-South; in 2018 she was named a Healthcare Hero finalist by Memphis Business Journal. She will soon be speaking at MIFA’s district in-service training session about a program she has been developing to assist those who are providing one-on-one care in the home. And she continues to write and create projects in her “spare” time, which equates to those hours when she isn’t working as a part-time substitute teacher and consultant or as her father’s full-time caregiver. “I wanted to capture all of the stories people were sharing [with me]. Advocacy through film. That’s what I do.”
Life didn’t go as Lofton planned but I believe the greater plan all along really was to prepare her for such a time as this, a time when some of our most vulnerable, most fragile, most misunderstood yet most beloved and most important pillars of our lives will have their stories told by one who understands them so very well.
To learn more about Kathy Lofton’s various endeavors, please follow The Caregiver Project on Facebook.
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