By Danna Downing
As we age yet another year, it is always a time of reflection and often a time of grief. Our job is to not just endure the grief, but to use it to grow our capacity to love those who are left. It is also a good time to honor all the caregivers in our lives and to explore the unique ways each of us can become a caregiver when and where needed.
During this past holiday season, I encountered four caregivers and heard their stories. I would like to share some of the wisdom I heard from them with you.
Recently I attended a meeting of the Kalamazoo County Older Adult Advisory Committee. In a sidebar conversation with a retired nurse, she shared her experiences when she was providing palliative home care to her dying mother. She reflected on how hard it was to be a good caregiver when she could only find respite care for two hours each week so she could leave the home to do grocery shopping and other necessary chores to keep their home running. She also spoke of the transcendent experience this dedication had returned to her in later years. “I am so glad we have the senior millage here in Kalamazoo,” she reflected, “so others have more resources to help them than I had. In fact, that is part of why I decided to volunteer to serve on the county advisory board.
I recently drove by a dear friend working to get her yard ready for winter. I had not seen her for a while and swung back into her driveway to see how things were going. She shared that her dad had recently been admitted to a nursing home because her mother was no longer able to provide the care he needed. It has been tough on the whole family. Fortunately, they found a nursing home within safe driving distance and her mom spends her days at the facility just to be sure things are going well. The two sisters who live locally provide support and intervention for their mom. “There is no manual written for how to navigate the situations we are facing,” she says. “I am grateful that my sister and I can be there to help; I only wish there was more we could do,” she adds.
We recently attended the funeral for a remarkable community figure. It was very sad. However, it was also very uplifting in many ways. It stood out and reflected the family’s amazing capacity to love and support their loved one over an extended illness; a wonderful experience to share with all attending.
Finally, I had the privilege of visiting another amazing older adult who has given much to our community for many years. She is convalescing at home after graduating from rehabilitation and told me in no uncertain terms she is “lucky to be alive!” She credits her caring family, attentive health professionals and the “good folks” at Vicksburg Family Home Care who are helping her gain strength and experience joy during the holiday season. As I left, she asked if I noticed the beautiful ramp outside her door that the SAFE AT HOME program based at South County Community Services provided. “Be sure to use the handrail and use the turn-around so you don’t have to back out on that busy road,” she cautioned me, still the caregiver herself after more than nine decades.
These stories speak volumes and hopefully they inspire readers to admiration and action. Someone is counting on us!
By Danna Downing