79: The Unexpected Blessing

79: The Unexpected Blessing

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

The Unexpected Blessing

Caring is the essence of nursing.

~Jean Watson

“I’m sorry, Adaline,” the doctor said sternly yet with compassion, “but it’s no longer safe for you to live alone in your house. You need to move into a smaller place without stairs. You simply can’t handle another fall down those stairs.”

“I see your point, but I’m not eager to leave the house,” my husband’s 85-year-old mother responded with a crack in her voice and tears in her eyes.

Accepting his advice was not easy for Adaline since she had lived in her home for 62 years. And it wasn’t just any house; it had been built by her father when she married Herbert, her husband of 51 years. Both my husband Tom and his sister had been born in the house, and our three girls had spent innumerable days there playing in the attic and basement. The memories imprinted in the walls were countless and precious, but Adaline knew she had to part with the home if she wanted to live to see age 86.

We prepared the house for sale and moved Adaline into a ranch condo that was next to an assisted-living and nursing home facility. She had the freedom to live independently, but could eat at the facility when desired. She only lasted there two years when it became too much for her. Next came assisted-living, followed swiftly by the nursing home.

It was during these latter years of moving her to progressively smaller and simpler living quarters that I assumed the role of primary caregiver for Adaline. I didn’t necessarily choose the role; it chose me.

“I think I should be the one to take Mom to her doctors’ appointments,” I announced to Tom when Adaline’s health began to decline and the doctors’ visits increased. “As a nurse, I feel that I will know the questions to ask the doctors and will understand what is going on with Mom’s health.”

“Okay, but that’s a lot of driving,” Tom said, thinking of the one hundred miles I would have to drive for each visit.

“Yes, it is, but I feel like this is something I should do for her.”

I happily delivered Adaline to visit after visit, but soon their frequency took a toll on me. Realizing the sacrifice of time and energy I was making to help her, she developed a much-appreciated sense of humor to help us through each visit. While we were sitting in the waiting room for one such visit, I noticed bruises on her arms. When she saw me looking at her arms, she said, “You should have seen the other guy!”

During another appointment, Adaline must have seen the fatigue I felt from working full-time and spending three to four hours driving her to doctors’ appointments two or three days each week. I’m sure she felt like a burden to me because she said, “They just can’t get rid of me. I thought about walking into the middle of the lake to drown myself, but with my luck, someone would save me!”

Chuckling, I responded, “Mom, you know I don’t mind taking you to your appointments. It’s part of my calling as a nurse.” Adaline appreciated my response because she had also been a nurse. For many years, she and Old Doc Miller had driven around together on the country roads of southeastern Iowa, delivering babies in people’s homes.

While driving her to the cardiologist one day, I asked, “Would you like to go to Long John Silver’s on our way back?”

With a twinkle in her eyes, she responded, “Oooh, Long John Silver’s. Wouldn’t that be a treat?” It was her favorite restaurant and one that she hadn’t visited in many years. When we arrived, Adaline got renewed strength in her 91-year-old bones. She moved her walker up the ramp and through the restaurant door without a hitch. She even managed to use the restroom by herself! This visit was a memorable one. I got to experience her youthful side one last time and was privileged to be the one to share her last meal at Long John Silver’s with her.

Adaline’s character provided much appreciated comedic relief, too, without her even realizing it. One Halloween, Tom and I visited her at the nursing home. She was in the dining area with other residents where they were decorating Halloween cookies, or at least that’s what she had been doing at one point. All that remained of her cookies by the time we arrived were crumbs stuck to her face and spilled down her shirt. We suppressed our laughs as we looked at her innocent expression and asked if she wanted another cookie.

All of the laughs I experienced thanks to Adaline helped to sustain me through the last 10 months of her life when she had seven separate hospitalizations. We spent countless hours together in the emergency room where we chatted about lighthearted topics. Although she was far more tired of the hospital visits than I was, she maintained a positive attitude and joyful spirit, even when the nurses struggled to start an IV in her barely visible veins. Her attitude helped to pull me through the hospitalizations, each of which was emotionally and physically exhausting.

Although Adaline Valentine strove to make it to one hundred, which would have been six months longer than her father had lived, this was not to be. She died the day after her 92nd birthday.

While she may have felt like she was a burden to me, my time with Adaline during her countless doctors’ appointments and hospital visits was a great blessing. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, she helped me discover that my calling now that I’m retired is to assist the elderly. Since her death, I’ve gladly assisted two other elderly family members when their health deteriorated. I can only hope that someone will care enough to do the same for me one day.

~Janet Zuber as told to Heather Zuber-Harshman

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