Caring for the Caregiver
Myrtle Dildine, my “Nannie” was born on January 20, 1931 and passed this life on March 4, 2019 at 88 years old. She was an adventurous traveler and lived life well. I have thought about her daily since she left us just over 3 weeks ago. Today is the first day that I’ve actually grieved for her. As odd as that sounds, I think it is not unusually for many families and family caregivers who lose their loved ones after extended illnesses or declines.
My family’s care-giving journey started just over 4 years ago. My then, vibrant 84 year old Nannie was living independently in her own home. She drover herself all over the countryside, taking extended vacations . She checked in with us often with quick phone calls and seemed as content as she had ever been.
The Journey Begins
In April four years ago, I received a call that she was at the local hospital. She had been involved in a single car accident. As we all assembled at the hospital to determine what had happened, we learned Nannie had driven her van into a tree in her own driveway. She was very confused. Given her lifelong good health, our family assumed she must have had an onset of a major illness like a stroke or heart attack. Soon we learned that she was experiencing dementia, and may have been hiding her symptoms for a long time.
The Short Stick
As with any good family, each of us tried to shirk the duty of telling Nannie that she wasn’t able to drive any longer. Finally, we pulled out the toothpicks. Boy, was I glad I didn’t draw the short stick. We had no idea at the time, that was just the first of hundreds of “short sticks” we would have in our journey with Nannie’s care. Overall, the decline is slow and painful but somehow things always seem to accelerate at the most inopportune times.
Plans Fell Short
As we began to plan what Nannie’s care journey might look like, we were pleased to learn that “Nannie the planner” had purchased a Long Term Care Policy in 1995. In that era home care was not well understood and unfortunately, she chose not to add this to the plan and instead opted for the “Nursing Home” plan. She was quite proud of her “planning” at the time. However, as the days drew closer to the time in which she would need this “plan” it was quite apparent that this “plan” would not be implemented.
Nannie quite craftily individually talked to each of her kids and grandkids and made them each promise she would never have to go to a “Nursing Home”. These promises are easy to make, but hell to keep. The amount of guilt, shame, stress, distress that this kind of agreement can cause is unimaginable. Sometimes, these promises are impossible to keep. In this case, my family kept the promise but it didn’t come with all the feels.
Ensuring the Important TOs
We hired BiosHealth to provide bathing, washing and blow drying her hair as this was something she enjoyed, some housekeeping and a bit of meal prep a few hours per week. This is the only way that Nannie was able to stay home. I want to emphasize that I am a home care provider and Home care services is absolutely the only way that she was able to stay home, they reduced the stress and worry immensely BUT with that said it was still hard.
Help in a Crisis
A month before Nannie passed, she fell and hit her head. She was hospitalized for eight days. Although neither were equipped physically or emotionally, my Uncle and Mom stayed with her round the clock during her hospitalization. As hard as it was, we decided she was too weak for them to care for her at home and she needed to go to a rehabilitation facility.
Fortunately, there was a facility close to my family. She was transferred there on Friday afternoon at 5 pm and she was mad as a hornet because she only wanted to go home. By Monday afternoon, my Uncle brought her home on Monday afternoon, against medical advice. BiosHealth was on it! By 8 pm that night, they had staff at the house. She would have 24 hour care for the remainder of her time here. On March 4th the caregiver on duty gave Nannie her shower put on fresh clothes, combed her hair and was blow drying her long, thin, white hair when she suddenly, peacefully, passed at home with her family just as she had planned.
One of our only regrets of this caregiving journey is that we didn’t hire a hospice company. We talk about hospice for palliative care but seldom do we talk about the legality of death. If hospice is not involved, the sheriff must be called. The sheriff’s department calls the physician to determine if they will agree to sign the death certificate; otherwise, an autopsy is required. In our case the physician agreed to sign. This process still took over 2 hours. Once the funeral home was called to pick it took another hour and a half. Hospice would have made this process so much less painful, as they would have coordinated all of this.
Just about every family I know has a “Nannie” story. Each story different, some longer, some shorter and with different outcomes. The overarching theme in all the stories is the love and admiration that was bound in the caregiving and care-receiving experience. There really are no words to describe it.
Hiring someone to take care of your family can feel like failure. It isn’t. Sometimes promises are hard to keep. All emotions from happiness, joy, anger, guilt, sadness, exhaustion and fear are normal. Above all else, focus on your love and be proud of the journey you were allowed to be a part of. The staff and caregivers of BiosHealth would love to help and be a part of your journey.