Caretakers = Heroes

When you become a caretaker for a family member, you take on a life-changing challenge. Unless you are a licensed nurse or doctor, it’s a whole new skill-set to learn. And even if you are trained, it’s still hard to be a caregiver for a loved one. Speaking from my own experience, you are constantly fearful that whatever you are doing is wrong or causing pain.

Thankfully, my mother had home Hospice for nearly four months before she died. My dad was the main caretaker; I was the secondary. Both of us leaned heavily upon the wonderful and amazing Hospice nurses. They became family to us, and they helped us not only with caring for Mom, but also how manage our time and energy.

My dad and I did the best we could, but felt we were lifted up by those incredibly kind and patient Hospice nurses. Additionally, my mother’s *PEO group organized a weekly menu of homemade meals for us. They were always delivered with love, friendship, compassion and a quick visit with Mom. Dad and I found that their visits and phone calls became a kind of safety net for us; their love and strength helped hold us together.

My oldest and best friend was a skilled nurse for over 30 years. Five years ago, she and her husband moved her mother into their home. Since then, she has been the sole caretaker for her mother, who is nearly 98 years old. I believe her when she says that the most important part of  her caretaker experience is simply listening. While her past nursing experience is extremely helpful in watching for signs of illness or or discomfort, keeping her mother’s records up to date, managing all the medical appointments, paperwork and finances, she feels that just listening to her mother reminisce about times past means so much–to both of them.

My friend is her mother’s advocate and voice, especially during a doctor’s appointment. As her mother is hard of hearing, my friend makes sure that she communicates to her mother what is going on, and in doing so brings her into the conversation. It is sad that medicine has come to a place where a doctor can only spend so many precious minutes with a patient, especially an elder one who is not used to the current “rush and hurry.” It becomes too easy for the doctor to speak only to the caretaker, and not directly to the patient. My friend makes sure that her mother gets the information she needs, and explains it to her in a way that is easy for her to understand.

I can’t tell you how many times I have leaned on my friend for advice and comfort during my mom’s last days. What sticks with me to this day is her telling me, ‘let her talk. Enjoy that time.’ And so we did. Dad and I told Mom over and over again how much we loved her, and how much she meant to us. She told us constantly that she loved us with all her heart.

My friend also told me that anger, fear and frustration are very common for caretakers. Anger because we are losing someone we love so dearly, fear because we are afraid we may make things worse by not doing the right thing at the right time, and frustration because we often don’t know what to do. Again, the best advice she gave me was to simply listen. Because of that simple reminder, my last days with my mom were memorable, wonderful and life-affirming.

I think that caretakers are true heroes. My friend is my hero now and forever for all she taught me, which helped me through my mother’s final days and death. My dad and I miss her, but we have no regrets. What we have is great gratitude for all the time we had with her, and all the love we shared together for years. As I believe that love never dies, I also believe that our spirits never do, either.

My gratitude to my friend, my hero, is never ending.

*For much of its history, the meaning of “P.E.O.” in the organization’s name was a closely guarded secret, never made public.

In 2005, the Sisterhood unveiled a new logo and an “It’s OK to Talk About P.E.O.” campaign, seeking to raise the public profile of the organization while maintaining its traditions of secrecy. Before then, the organization’s avoidance of publicity, and the secrecy of their name, caused it to be considered it a “secret society’.

In 2008, the Sisterhood revised its website to indicate that “P.E.O.” now publicly stands for “Philanthropic Educational Organization”. However, the Sisterhood acknowledges that “P.E.O.” originally had a different meaning that continues to be “reserved for members only”, and so the public meaning is not the only one.

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