It is our great privilege to have Ilene Chazan on the podcast today, particularly as she has rounded out the trio -- her husband, Chris Gabbard, and daughter, Clio Chazan-Gabbard were also guests -- giving Jason and I the unique privilege of interviewing each member of their family about their lives as caregivers. They are terrific individuals and provide personal perspectives on their life with the late August Chazan-Gabbard, Ilene and Chris' son and Clio's older brother.
Ilene describes herself as a mother, wife, physical therapist and Pilates instructor. She grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles and went to college in Santa Barbara, near the ocean, which she loves. In 1990, her love of science and physical activity brought her to Boston where she became a physical therapist. She began her career in San Francisco, where she met Chris. The couple married in 1992, and in August of 1999, she gave birth to their first child, August Chazan-Gabbard who was the subject of prior podcasts with her husband and daughter. In 2001, the small family moved to Jacksonville, Florida for Chris' work and later that year, Ilene gave birth to Clio. Currently, Ilene owns a small business in Jacksonville, where she practices as a physical therapist and Pilates instructor. She still loves nature, physical activity, being a mother and cooking.
In today's podcast, Jason and I started the conversation by asking Ilene "who she was" before she began the journey of caregiving that followed the birth of August. Ilene was frank about her identity, how much she loved San Francisco and her long relationship and then marriage with Chris, yet also how she looked forward to being a mother with expectations for her new baby to follow in his father's footsteps in academic circles. Ilene spoke of the unique position she found herself in when August was diagnosed -- a physical therapist well aware of physical limitations and quite positive that they could handle those easily. When they discovered that August would also have cognitive disabilities, Ilene shared, it was a harder adjustment, but Ilene described herself as being the sort of person who "figures things out." She and Chris shared the caregiving of August even during the early days, as both were very much in love with their baby.
We then spoke about having another baby -- about "taking another chance," as Jason put it and about the other, even more intense implications of having multiple children when our first have complex diagnoses and needs. Would something happen again? Can I risk having another child? Will the child I bring in to this unusual family get enough attention? Will my disabled child get what he needs? Despite the unique lenses each of us brought to the conversation, I think Ilene summed it up by saying, "I really had a deep spiritual feeling that gave me permission in a sense that I could love another baby and I could open up my heart to another baby because I was so devoted to August. I mean, he was everything to me."
We delved into Ilene and Chris's marriage whose strength was extolled by Clio, their daughter, in an earlier podcast. We haven't talked much in the podcasts about marriage, as it's a sensitive subject, but Ilene said much that illuminated what it means to stay connected despite terrible stress and then overbearing grief and loss. She also spoke frankly about the importance of therapy for their marriage, for themselves and for Clio.
When their son unexpectedly passed away, Ilene developed a "grief plan" that would include exercise multiple times a week, and nutrition (avoid emotional eating), as well as therapy. She did this for herself and for her daughter, encouraging Clio to go to a therapist. Ilene also discovered the technique of EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy that helped her with the overwhelming thoughts and painful memories of August. The therapy also helped her to understand Clio's own emotional trauma over losing her brother and witnessing her parents' pain.
Despite the heavy nature of our conversation, I think you will agree that Ilene, like her husband Chris and daughter Clio, is a remarkable person whose authentic and honest descriptions of her life as a woman, a mother and caregiver who has suffered tremendous loss can enrich all of us and provide a template for how to live life fully even as we encounter challenges and suffer great loss.
We hope you enjoy the show.
The Aware Baby by Aletha Jauch Solter
Space and Self and other books by Lillie Nielsen
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Most Inspirational Person/Group
a group in San Francisco called "Support for Families of Children with Disabilities"
The Bridge School in northern California