Donna from Alabama
In 2000, I was blessed to become the live-in companion and caregiver for my Mother, Connie P. I sold my house in Ohio and moved to Alabama to live with her when I was between jobs. Mom and I got along very well and at first I was primarily her companion and driver, I took her to doctor appointments or to visit friends. During those early years I held short part-time jobs and we shared household responsibilities. She loved to see people and we often took car trips to watch various events in town. She enjoyed watching construction crews and the recycling center folks. She could hold a great conversation with anyone. We went to the children's programs at church and the children loved seeing her. We spent the last 12 years of her life together with me serving as primary caregiver when that became necessary. My sister, Joy, lived about 300 miles away and came to visit us and to give me a weekend respite. Mom had limited mobility and due to shoulder injuries and she was not able to lift her arms over her head. As time went on, I did all of the household chores, planned and prepared all meals and helped Mom with bathing and grooming. She needed help to navigate from her wheelchair to the commode. She kept her joyful, spirit, and sense of humor to the end, with minimal lapses in memory. The need to be with her 24 hours was a challenge at first but I thought, she took care of me 24/7 as an infant and child, now it became my turn. We laughed a lot and shared dreams.
We prayed together every night and shared Hour of Power and Lawrence Welk every Saturday. She always wanted to do useful things, so we came up with many different projects. She sent cards to everyone in our church for every holiday. Often I helped write addresses because her arthritic hands would tire. The other challenges were financial as my sister and I began to deplete out savings to pay for her special needs. Mom and I shared stories and adventures. Sometimes I recreated childhood events, like tea parties with her Mother's tea set. At 97 she was creating birthday parties for her younger friends (with my help). An example of her endless love and caring for others was clear one night after she was all ready for bed. An 80 year old friend of the family was in ICU. Joy and I were discussing going to keep her daughters company. Mom insisted on getting dressed and coming with us at 10 PM, saying "If those girls need you, their Mother needs me." It was true. Mom offered love and blessings to all of them (and us). Everyone in the waiting room was astonished by her joyful presence and could not believe her age.
We did not know about respite care options and I eventually collapsed with compassion fatigue. When she was anxious at night, I often pulled my cot next to her bed and we held hands. Sometimes I climbed over the railing and held her in my arms until she was calm enough to sleep. These were precious times. Her cat came onto her bed and slept by her feet too. She was prepared to leave our 5 generation family and "crossover" to her loved ones who preceded her. We all gathered in her room to pray, sing and simply BE with her. When she refused to eat a chocolate candy treat, one of her favorites, she shoved it into my mouth with a smile. I knew her time had come. It was just a few days before her 98th birthday.
There were scary times when she woke me up one night and she was bleeding and I saw the trail of blood from her bed to the bathroom and then to my room. A sight I will never forget. Her complete trust that I would know what to do. The confusion in her eyes about where is this coming from and why. I fought the fear and tears that were on the edge of my spirit. I sat her down on the commode and called 911. She said, "This is serious, isn't it?" I replied, "Yes" and held her in my arms until help arrived.
The photo is from 1933 when Connie was 17 and graduating from Holyoke High School.