by Leo Notenboom
My 87-year-old father has Alzheimer’s disease, is profoundly deaf, and has difficulty walking. In recent years my 82-year-old mother cared for his slowly increasing needs, carefully assisting, guiding and reminding him through his daily life.
Early in 2002 I convinced my mother to have someone help with my father one afternoon a week. My mom and I began spending Thursday afternoons together, away from the constant vigilance of caring for my father. Kathleen, a caregiver recommended by a friend, spent the afternoon with my dad.
Getting my father to accept what he called “a baby sitter” was a challenge, but Kathleen remained patient. Communication was difficult, but she persisted, learning the tricks and nuances that allowed her to establish a rapport with him.
Last November my mom became very ill. That month, Kathleen’s weekly four-hour visit became frequent day-long visits to help monitor both my parents. She continued working three nights a week at a nursing home, and attending school to become a certified nurse’s aide.
It became clear that the stress of caring for my dad was contributing to my mom’s illness, and we decided it was time for him to move to an assisted living facility. The depths of the connection developed between my father and Kathleen became apparent when I talked with him about living elsewhere.
After the expected protests, he surprised me by eventually agreeing that he’d need to move. I was doubly surprised and touched when he said, “I like Kathleen. Who knows, maybe I could move in with her.”
My mother continues to live at home, but two emergency surgeries and a hospital stay left her extremely weak and unsteady. We’re fortunate in being able to provide the 24-hour care and monitoring she needs to keep her safe while recuperating in her own home, with her own dog keeping her company. And Kathleen, of course.
Kathleen is a “virtual” member of our family now, each week spending four 24-hour days providing the care my mother requires. When my mother and I discuss the necessary parade of different caregivers through her home, we return to Kathleen, and how much my mother appreciates and trusts her care. “I like Kathleen,” she told me recently.
I’m an only child, and I learned early on that my wife and I can’t shoulder the burden of caring for both my parents alone — it’s too much. My parents are immigrants, thus any relatives who might help live on another continent.
Kathleen fits my family into her life now, when we need her the most. I’m blessed to have her help in this terribly difficult time. She has won my parents’ hearts, and my acceptance and trust. I’ll always be incredibly grateful to her, and yes, I like Kathleen, too.
This story was originally published in HeroicStories as “When We Need Her Most”.
From the author, June 30, 2014.
The story was actually written and submitted about three months prior to its original publication.
My mother passed away on May 4th, 2003. We had arranged for in-home hospice care, so Kathleen, my wife and I were all there at the time. (As was my mother’s dog … an important part of her life.) Kathleen remained instrumental in helping us with the many details of wrapping up a household.
My father moved into an assisted living facility for a few months, but fell and broke his hip while there about the time the story was written. He spent the remainder of his life in an excellent nursing home, passing away on November 20th, 2007 at the age of 91.
We were never really certain if he ever understood that my mom had passed. We have hard examples of both knowing, and of forgetting. We didn’t remind him. Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease – physically my father recuperated from the fall, but the mental debilitation was slow but steady.
Kathleen finished school and received her CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant). She went on to become a phlebotomist (the folks that draw blood in hospitals and clinics) which she’s done now for for many years.
Kathleen’s first grandson was born two weeks before my mother passed away. The last photos of my mother, and some of her last smiles, are when she was allowed to hold the two week old infant.
Finally, when my father passed my wife and I had some warning, and thus were able to spend the night before his death at his bedside. The one person whom we knew would want to know beforehand was Kathleen. And so it was that she was able to take a some time off of work and join us for most of our vigil to truly complete the story.