36: Soul Caregiver

36: Soul Caregiver

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

Soul Caregiver

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.

~Winston Churchill

“Would you be available to take care of Dale for a week in August?” my mother asked. “You could bring the kids and stay up here in Lake Isabella or we can bring him to you. We’re going to Hawaii, and Nanny is going to go, too.”

Dale is my mother’s brother and Nanny is their mother, and of course, my grandmother. Nanny was Dale’s primary caregiver, with my mother assisting when needed. When they both were away, I was often next in line. I had cared for Dale during other vacations and while my grandmother recovered from breast cancer.

“Sure, Mom, no problem.” I saw it as an opportunity to spend some time with Dale and my two kids, and earn a little extra money. Besides, spending time with Dale always seemed to correct my oftenmyopic perspective on life.

Dale had joined the U.S. Navy right out of high school. He has told me many times of his high school years—his love of music, muscle cars, and girls. He entered the Navy a healthy, strong, 18-year-old with his whole life in front of him. He came out of the Navy a 19-year-old paraplegic with a brain injury that would change the course of his life and the life of his family. And yet, I have never heard Dale complain about his situation or say a disparaging thing about the Navy.

The kids and I made the drive from the coastal communities of Orange County to the high desert in California where temperatures rose to over 100 degrees by the end of summer. Lake Isabella is a small community with limited things to do, but we were determined to make it a memorable week for Dale.

Dale’s injury resulted in paralysis on the left side of his body, some memory issues, and a stutter. It did not result in a loss of good nature or humor! He is always up for a good time.

Sometimes we take Dale to Knott’s Berry Farm, an amusement park in Southern California. I will never forget the time we took him on the river raft ride with the help of my husband and a park attendant who were able to lift him out of his wheelchair and into the raft. There we sat, enclosed in a circle of rubber gently bobbing along in the water ride and Dale’s face lit up when we hit the occasional fast spots or he got sprayed with water. I will never forget the look on Dale’s face when what seemed like 100 gallons of water poured over him from a waterfall that he didn’t see coming because his back was to it. After the shock, he laughed with delight. Park admission—$30. The expression on Dale’s face—priceless! We all wondered how we would explain to Nanny why Dale’s wheelchair seat was soaking wet!

And good times for Dale are made even better by good food. Each year, my mother takes him to the Orange County Fair. Sure, there are nice things to look at, but what about the food? Dale is as good-natured and easy-going about food as he is about life. Fried avocados? You bet he’s eaten them!

So we were going to do our best to make our time with Dale memorable that August week. We played indoor board games. We played shuffleboard outside. We sketched. We took photographs. We tried to stay cool. And we included a couple of field trips to town.

One day, we decided to go into town to watch a movie—something Dale doesn’t get to do very often. It was my idea to get an ice cream cone while we waited for the movie theater to open. There we were, the four of us, in my grandmother’s car. Chocolate-dipped cones sounded good—after all, this was vacation! Live it up! It was also August in Lake Isabella, and it was blazing hot. Our cones were melting faster than we could eat them. And because Dale only had the use of one hand—the one that was holding his cone—his only method of defense against the run of ice cream was his mouth! But even that couldn’t move fast enough to keep him from getting covered with ice cream. Since it was my idea, I felt terrible! But in Dale’s usual fashion, he took it all in stride. And after we got ourselves cleaned up, we had a good laugh.

As the years have passed, and many have gone by, we still look back at that week in Lake Isabella and smile fondly. I know it isn’t easy to be a caregiver for someone who needs you to make it through the day. I watched my grandmother, and now my mother, dutifully care for Dale. I see the challenge of renewing one’s patience and strength each day to meet the needs of someone else. And so I imagine it must be hard for a regular caregiver to see the blessings the way I do, as a relief caregiver.

Every once in a while when I complain about my day, I think of Dale, who doesn’t complain. When I become impatient about how long it takes me to get ready in the morning, I remember the hours it takes to get Dale ready to start his day. When I wish that I had one more hand to get one more thing done, I remember Dale, whose one hand held the ice cream cone as it melted on his shirt. Perspective. Attitude. Choices. Yes, there have been times during my life when I have been a physical caregiver for my uncle, a paraplegic Navy veteran. Yes, he is reliant on others for his care. But I have come to see Dale’s positive attitude as “soul care” for others.

~Lynne Leite

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