Meet Claudia Berner
By Leslie Moore
Claudia Berner’s parents, Walter and Muriel Berner, retired to their beloved Murrells Inlet to golf and enjoy their retirement years. On her frequent visits, Claudia started noticing differences in her dad, small quirky things that were not a part of his personality. After his eventual diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, Walter asked Claudia to make sure he was able to stay home with his wife of 62 years and live out his remaining days with dignity. While it was not easy, Claudia and her siblings found help and developed a routine of love and caring that gave meaning to their beloved father’s last years. After Walter’s death, Claudia and Barry Weber, a Registered Nurse, who was her father’s main caregiver and close family friend, opened Grand Strand Homewatch CareGivers in Murrells Inlet to help other seniors maintain their independence in the face of illness or age-related issues.
Claudia, tell us about your dad.
Dad was a magnificent man with a huge personality and has been my role model for so many things. He worked for Exxon for 40 odd years and people who worked for him would tell me how lucky I was to have him for my father. He had a passion for life and for his family, and even in his declining years he would tell my mom how pretty she was and how much he loved her. My dad was my hero.
An adventurer at heart, Dad was born in Miami and grew up in and around the water. This was always his passion, and when he bought his boat he named it Porfin, Spanish for “At Last.” He and his sailing cronies would sail all the different routes. Once they sailed Christopher Columbus’ route and eight hours off shore the battery died, so for 21 days they had only sails. He said the worst thing about it was the warm beer!
After looking around the country, my parents fell in love with Murrells Inlet and were drawn to settle here after dad retired. He became active in the community, serving on the Board of Murrells Inlet 2020. Working with Al Hitchcock, owner of Drunken Jacks, Dad was able to get grants from Exxon to start the first section of the Marshwalk.
I always wanted to make him proud – I think I’m more like him than he wanted me to be! [laughing]. I even followed in his footsteps and was employed with Exxon before switching to the medical field.
How did you and your family adjust to caring for your dad?
I promised Dad that as long as he was safe, we would keep him at home with my mother. At first, I visited often because I didn’t really trust anyone. I soon learned that there is a huge need for good caregivers that you are able to trust with your loved ones.
There are necessities in caregiving: basic hygiene, physical stimulation and allowing the person dignity and honor. We wanted Dad to be able to get out and enjoy Murrells Inlet, to enjoy the restaurants he loved and have the very best quality of life. At first, Mom didn’t understand that she needed to let someone help her take care of her husband. We had to allow her the dignity of caring for her husband and continuing with her life, but also give Dad what he needed. There were some funny moments – sometimes he’d go into a restaurant and eat with both his hands! Luckily, most people were very understanding.
Murrells Inlet is such a great community. We met Barry when he came to us after working with another resident of Wachesaw Plantation. Dad took to Barry like crazy! He looks a lot like my brother, which made transition from caregiver to close friend very easy. He and my mom are now best friends.
Routines and consistency are so important to anyone who is memory impaired. We had a bedtime ‘ritual’ that soothed him. Barry would rub his back, and I would read to him. He liked Winnie the Pooh the best. Then we would say our prayers, and he would open his eyes and join in with the phrases that were familiar to him.
Barry and I always strived to do things better. I started having our local Piggly Wiggly put together a grocery order, and Barry would pick it up. We found someone to come and cut Dad’s hair, take care of the housework, etc. Barry would always call me and let me know what was going on. He would often send pictures or arrange a time to Skype so the family could stay connected. When Dad started to decline, we were all able to be there at the end.
Why did you decide to open Homewatch Caregivers?
After we lost Dad, I knew there was a need. We looked at several franchises, but many were in it for the money only. We don’t want to be the biggest, just the best. Supervised by Barry, we customize the care plan for each client. We have one client who wanted an outing with “the boys,” so Barry arranged that for him. With our help, the primary caregiver, usually an adult daughter, always knows what’s happening with her parents.
We are not a medical service, but provide a continuum of care. Usually, we start our services as companions and the care increases as the illness progresses. Big changes are hard on people who are ill. This business is my dream and my Father’s legacy.
Grand Strand Homewatch Caregivers is located at 3577 Highway 17 Business in Murrells Inlet. Call (843) 299-0291 for more information or visit www.homewatchcaregivers.com/myrtle-beach
About this writer
- Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.