My mom is an independent Southern woman, raised in rural Kentucky, then raising her family in the suburbs. After their nest emptied in the late ‘70s, Mom decided if she and Dad could parent three wily kids from Lexington to Nashville to Memphis to Louisville and then back to my father’s hometown in South Central Kentucky, they could do anything. So it was agreed that Mom, with her shrewd business background and the patience of Job, would open a much needed certified daycare center in Russell Springs, Kentucky. She retired after 15 years of diapering, teaching, and feeding hundreds of children who now have kids of their own.
Over time, her feet and knees began to bother her and it was no surprise to us because she could always be found in a vast backyard garden with a hoe and a wheelbarrow at dawn and dark and in between. Planting, harvesting, and canning were the joys of her life, and she continued after Dad passed away in 1991. Simply put, she was tired yet not sick.
By the next decade, hearing loss, inability to walk, confusion, and several falls led her to become more dependent on her three kids. Slowly but surely, gardening, shopping, housecleaning, cooking, and keeping up with bills and insurance were divided between the three of us.
Since we all live and work out of town, we were advised to call the Just Family organization, which assigned her 40 hours worth of aides, a rotating team of women who were nothing less than angels. We have a dedicated night sitter and my sister and I take over from Friday through Monday. My brother is available to fill in as a first responder since he lives only 20 miles away.
Mom’s Just Family caregivers fell into her sense of humor and Southern charm with zeal. In the big picture, they take good care of me and my siblings with peace of mind. And as most elderly people prefer and pray for, they are allowing Mom to stay in her own home for as long as possible.
As an adult child, I thought I’d be awkward about moving into such intimate care of toileting and washing Mom, changing her pull-ups, pads, and clothes, and giving neck and foot massages, but it became second nature.
Over the last year, her hearing has descended into near deafness and aphasia has taken most of her eloquent speaking voice. I have a fleet of dry erase boards and notebooks with plenty of markers to communicate about meal options, weather talk, and friends and family info.
For memory engagement, I created a list of cities where she’s lived and jobs that she’s had in her sales career. Photos of gardens, food, and holidays are compiled in two bound books that I created online. They bring her much joy and honor. And did I mention she’s become quite the star as we journal her life in photos on Facebook?
My cousin, whose mother passed a couple of years ago, shared that my main allies and core should be my siblings. Support them, listen to them, and share ideas and skills — finance, maintenance and repairs, research, and resource digging. We each found our own skills and put them to work for Mom and her property.
That is our daily goal.
Knowing that the keywords and actions are dignity, compassion, and sacrifice, there is a sweet spot in the middle of all that where a child can be responsible for their elders even if that means having to learn on the job. And it is a job of a lifetime!
By Cindy Lamb
P.S. You may also be interested in this article: Passing Along Great Gifts.