88: Unsung Heroes

88: Unsung Heroes

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer's & Other Dementias

Unsung Heroes

Unselfish and noble actions are the most radiant pages in the biography of souls.

~David Thomas

Mom was coming home, and I didn’t know what to do. A surprise diagnosis of “normal pressure hydrocephalus” and a shunt insertion had brought an amazing turnaround. She had spent three months in a skilled nursing facility and another two weeks in grueling in-patient rehabilitation. Even after all that, she would be able to do very little on her own and was at high risk of falls. And we still had to contend with her dementia.

I needed help. But where would I find it? I researched in-home care agencies, but the cost nearly made me pass out. Surely we could find another way. I put out the word at church that I was looking for caregivers and called friends asking them to do the same at their churches. I took a chance on one unlikely source, a homeschool e-mail loop, where I sent a plea for help. Word spread.

It worked, and over the next three years, God brought some amazing women into our lives. Each had a unique personality and gifts that enriched both my mother’s life and mine in ways I would never have imagined.

Cheri, with the spiked hair and beautiful smile, loved to do nails. She also loved to talk. Mom often felt she was left out of things because her hearing deteriorated shortly after surgery and she couldn’t understand much of what we said. Cheri would get right down in Mom’s face while filing and buffing her nails, and they would talk and talk. I always knew when Cheri had worked because Mom showed off her latest nail color and gave me the scoop on happenings in Cheri’s neighborhood.

Charlotte, a widow, was tall, well spoken, and unflappable. She could calm Mom during her rages when the rest of us couldn’t. Mom loved Charlotte because she treated her with quiet kindness, but Charlotte also possessed another priceless skill. She could do hair. Each time Mom’s hair grew out after her shunt revisions, Charlotte colored it the ash blond Mom favored and gave her a perm. In between, she pin-curled and styled it. She would never take extra money for her work. These might have seemed like small things in Mom’s overall care, but they were huge for her sense of wellbeing.

Then there was Joan, who came to work for us at the beginning and stayed until the end. A short powerhouse of a woman, Joan was practical and organized. I called her my right-hand woman. She instituted The Notebook, where caregivers could leave notes for each other on Mom’s current preferences, complaints, and needs — what worked and what didn’t. She asked me to print a chore list so they could coordinate keeping the house clean. Not that cleanliness was an issue when Joan was around. I often walked in to find her with her head stuck in the refrigerator scrubbing shelves or up on a stool straightening cabinets. She even tried to mow the yard during one of Mom’s naps but couldn’t get the mower started.

When Mom had a doctor’s appointment, Joan often came in early to get her ready and to sweep or de-ice the wheelchair ramp. Upon my arrival, Joan would hand me a list of Mom’s blood pressure readings neatly copied out for the cardiologist, or her food diary for the gastroenterologist. Many times she included Mom’s lunchtime meds in a bag, “in case you run late or want to stop for lunch.”

But Joan’s caregiving went beyond practicality. On her days off or when she went on vacation, she called to check on Mom. She visited her during hospitalizations and brought gifts or cooked food she thought Mom would like. Joan showed she cared in a thousand ways, as did all our caregivers. And there were many. Some stayed a short time or came late in the course of Mom’s illness, but they all showed unconditional love nonetheless.

And it wasn’t always easy. As anyone who has cared for someone with dementia knows, the disease changes one’s personality. My normally patient mother became demanding. She wanted things done now, if not sooner. Worst of all, Mom went through spells when she cursed the caregivers for the least infraction — or for none. There were days when no one could do anything right. More than once, I stopped by the house and found a caregiver in tears. Yet they stayed.

And more came.

Caryl was an excellent cook and baked mouthwatering pies to entice Mom to eat. She also knitted and made her a stylish scarf, a cup cozy, and a tissue holder. One night I visited and found Mom covered with the softest blanket I’d ever felt. She said Caryl had bought it to keep her extra warm.

Kristy came to work for us a few months before Mom passed away. A mother of four, she had a delightful sense of humor and the most gentle and nurturing nature. Toward the end, when Mom became irrationally fearful, Kristy would sit and hold her hand for hours. One chilly day, I walked in and found Kristy wearing a tank top and leaning over Mom. Her sweatshirt hung from one arm. My mother had grabbed Kristy’s hand as she reached down to put fresh water on the table. When Kristy became unbearably warm, she pulled her sweatshirt over her head with her free hand rather than let go of Mom’s hand.

Debbie worked with us on Sundays for several months. Even after her health problems required her to quit, she texted frequently to check in on Mom. The day before Mom passed away, Debbie showed up at the door. She wanted to see Mom one last time and sat holding her hand and praying for her.

How blessed we were by such compassionate women. They not only cared for Mom but also cared about her and became part of our family. These women may not have been classic heroes, but they rescued me when I needed them most. And though none were trained healthcare professionals, they were all exceptional caregivers.

~Tracy Crump

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