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Chicken Soup for the Caregiver's Soul
Stories to Inspire Caregivers in the Home, Community and the World
By Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, LeAnn Thieman
Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2004 John T. Canfield and Hansen and Hansen LLC
All rights reserved.
SPECIAL MOMENTS IN CAREGIVING
I am one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I cannot refuse to do the something I can do.
That's Why I Am Here
What gift has providence so bestowed on man that is so dear to him as his children.
My children have always been involved in 4-H. Heavily into the animal divisions with a few other projects, they took their county fair presentations very seriously. I was a professional dog trainer and handler, and one year my two youngest children entered our registered dogs in the Beginner Obedience class. My fourteen-year-old son, Jeremy, wanted to do something with the dogs too, but he was very independent and didn't want to do something that everyone else was doing. He came to me in the spring, several months before the fair, and said, "I've decided to make my dog project count." He proceeded to show me his detailed plan for his Citizenship project, which was to provide therapy-dog visits to local nursing homes.
In the north-central portion of Minnesota, where we lived, this was an unheard-of concept. Jeremy told me he had already done some of the legwork by asking his brother, sister and two members of the 4-H club to come along and assist. What he most needed from me was to choose the appropriate dogs and teach the handlers how to present a dog to an elderly, and perhaps bedridden, person. We contacted several nursing homes and finally found one that agreed to allow our therapy dogs to visit. Jeremy called his 4-H buddies and set up a training schedule. When all five kids were comfortable presenting the dogs, we made an appointment with the nursing home.
The first day we visited, I went along as driver, photographer and supervisor. We went from room to room, sharing our smaller trained therapy dogs and puppies with as many people as possible. Each child carried a dog and a towel to place on the bed in case someone wanted the dog there. We were a hit! The joy these folks exhibited was genuine and wonderful. They all asked us to visit again.
On our next outings, we left earlier so we could visit more residents. Jeremy enjoyed watching people's faces light up as we entered a room, but there seemed to be something disturbing him. I asked if he was having a problem with the project. He became solemn. "I love coming here, but I want to make an even bigger difference. I'm not sure how, but I know there is something more I can do."
Each time we visited, the residents anticipated it with greater enthusiasm. Some even had family members bring in photos of their own dogs to share with us. We listened to stories about their pets, their families and their lives when they were young. Each sat constantly petting one of the dogs, gaining the comfort and unconditional love only an animal can give so freely.
One day, we ventured into an area we hadn't been to before. As a nurse's aide led the way, we came upon several rooms that were quieter than most and not decorated. The aide motioned for us to continue following her to the residents down the hall who had requested visits. Jeremy stopped and peered into one of the rooms. The aide reprimanded, "There is no use going into that room; that lady hasn't moved or spoken in months. She is unresponsive and pretty much alone." Jeremy looked at her and then at the French bulldog he held in his arms. Calmly, he replied, "That's why I am here." He proceeded into the room and stood hesitantly. The woman was ghost-white and showed no signs of life. She lay prone and didn't move so much as her eyes when we entered. Jeremy took a deep breath and moved to the side of the bed. "My name is Jeremy, and I am here with my therapy dogs. I brought a dog to see you. Since you can't come to see the dog, I'd like to place it on your bed. I have a towel so no hair will get on your blankets."
The woman did not move. Jeremy looked to me for approval. I nodded. He moved to the side of the bed where her arm was exposed and placed the towel on the bedspread. While all this was happening, the aide left to get a nurse. By the time Jeremy was ready to put the dog beside the woman, two nurses and the aide were in the doorway. As one began to tell me we were wasting our time, I raised my hand to silence her. She huffed but was otherwise quiet.
Jeremy placed the dog against the woman's arm. He spoke softly. "She won't hurt you. She came here just to see you." As he spoke, the woman's head shifted slightly. The glaze in her eyes seemed to disappear. Jeremy allowed the dog to nestle close. The woman raised a weak arm and placed it on the dog's back. Although she had no words, she began to make sounds. Tears brimmed her eyes as she moved her hand along the hair. The nurses rushed to the bedside and began pressing the nurse-call button. More people rushed into the room. There was not a dry eye in the group. Jeremy looked at the aide and reiterated, "This is why I am here." Then he looked at me, tears flowing unashamedly down his face, and he said, "I made a difference." I hugged him and acknowledged that he certainly had. When it was time to leave, Jeremy gathered up the dog and the towel and said to the woman, "Thanks for letting us come into your room— and into your life." She smiled at him and touched his arm.
Jeremy received the highest award for his Citizenship project and went on to the state level, where he earned Grand Champion. But for Jeremy, the ribbons were nothing compared to his biggest award—the touch of a hand and the smile from a woman who was said to be a waste of time.
The Day Wishes Came True
There is nothing more properly the language of the heart than a wish.
My mother was very hard-of-hearing for almost all of her life. As a child, I became her hearing aid before the precious invention was made available to her. Even after she began wearing one, I spent a lot of time repeating myself or the words of others so she knew what was happening. In those days, the contraption buzzed and squealed so loudly it hurt our ears. No matter, the device was there to stay. She thought hearing aids were the greatest. Many times I wished for her to be able to hear me without speaking loudly, or having to stand where she could read my lips. I used to see other mothers and their little girls whispering secrets, and I would think, When Mother and I get to heaven, she will be able to hear me whisper secrets.
Daddy died when Mom was only forty-five, so I served as her caregiver her last years. Despite her near deafness, she kept up on current events from the newspaper, local news and the blaring television. But her favorite pastime was recalling the past.
One day, she recounted to my daughter, Debbie, "I married your grandpa two days before my seventeenth birthday. On July 19, 1928, we went into Lake City, Arkansas, to buy me a new dress for our wedding. He wanted me to have a pretty white dress, but we couldn't find one. So, he bought me a blue dress with white lace, new white shoes and a hat." She chuckled as she told how they were wed that day and then hurried back to their respective homes in time to milk the cows!
Mother always told her wedding day story with humor—especially that they had to split up and go back to their parents' homes to do their chores. However, she always admitted her regret that she didn't have a white dress for her special day. This time, she concluded, "I married in blue, but when Albert sees me, I want to be in white."
Mother and Debbie shared a love for catalogs. In between Debbie's visits, Mother created a stack and had them waiting for her. One day when Debbie came over to help me, as she often did, she said, "By the way, Mom, Grandma and I ordered her a long white dress." She went on to explain that she had ordered and paid for the gown of Mother's choice for her burial.
When the dress arrived, Mother loved it. She even asked for a new slip to go with it. She had wished for that dress for so many years; like a youthful bride, she looked forward to wearing what Albert had wanted for her long ago.
Mother suffered from congestive heart failure, and in her last days, her kidneys failed so her body was retaining water; she was a little woman and had put on close to twenty pounds within a few days. One day, she was in pain and couldn't eat, and we didn't place her hearing aid in her ear that morning. Losing her mobility made her angry, so she stood up from her chair without help and began trying to walk. Of course, she did not move far in her attempt to defy death. Later in the day, she absolutely could not pull herself to her feet, so she asked me to please help her stand. Just Mother and I were in the house. By then, she was quite heavy and I was sixty-four years old. I picked her up as if she were a child and had her stand on top of my feet. I laid her head on my shoulder while I walked her around.
Absentmindedly, I began to sing softly as we walked. When I was young and lived on a farm, I sang at the top of my voice as I pumped water by hand for our thirsty, hardworking farm animals. Some of our neighbors would say to me, "You have a beautiful, clear voice. You should be a singer." I had not sung in years except in the congregation of our church. I didn't even know a complete song. But while walking Mother, I began to sing some of those long-ago songs.
"Lula, where is that beautiful singing coming from?" she asked.
"Me," I said, almost surprising myself. Then, in a hushed tone, I started quoting scripture. I said, "You know, Mother, you will not always be trapped in this old, sick body, but you will walk on streets of gold, pure gold."
She said back to me, "Pure gold, Lula."
Then it dawned on me: She was hearing every word I said to her, without her hearing aid! God was giving Mother and me that precious day I had longed for since I was a kid. In spite of that miracle, it didn't dawn on me that my precious mother was only minutes from being on those streets of gold.
That evening, in her beautiful white dress, she walked down the eternal aisle to Albert.
Lula Smith as told to Kim Peterson
A Musical Eye-Opener
Music is the medicine of the breaking heart.
Alfred William Hunt
My father had been diagnosed with dementia and lived in a nursing home. He became ill enough to be admitted to the hospital, so I stayed with him. He was confused and rarely spoke, but that didn't keep me from chatting away, trying to communicate with him.
One day, I ran out of things to say, so I decided to sing. Unfortunately, I inherited my daddy's musical ability. Neither of us could carry a tune in a bucket. I crooned, "I love you. You love me. We're a great big family."
Daddy opened his eyes, turned and looked at me. For the first time in days, he spoke. "I love you too, honey," he said. "But you don't have to sing about it."
Nancy B. Gibbs
Christmas Eve Devotions
A song will outlive all sermons in the memory.
It was Christmas Eve 1997, my first working at the Good Samaritan Home. It was the custom there for the supervisory and administrative staff to conduct Christmas Eve devotions for the residents. I was looking forward to participating, but I didn't know quite what to expect.
There was no set program, but all the supervisors came prepared to share something. Some read scripture; others shared special Christmas memories. I love to sing, so, naturally, that's what I decided to contribute.
Before we started the services on each unit, we greeted the residents, wishing them all a Merry Christmas. They welcomed us with smiles and even some tears as a feeling of warmth and love filled the air.
We arrived at the Special Care Center for those suffering from Alzheimer's disease. As we had done on all of the other floors, we spent time visiting with the residents prior to the devotions. Most of them, however, were very disoriented and confused.
I noticed one particular woman, Mary, sitting alone, and I went over to speak to her. She had a distant look in her eyes, a look you might find on the face of a small child lost from her parents—scared and utterly helpless.
When I reached for her hand, she said in a raspy voice, "Is Tom here yet? He should be here any minute."
I could tell that Tom was someone very special to her. I wondered, Who is he? Is he a relative coming to spend the holiday with her? I hoped so.
As I moved on to greet another resident, a nurse who had seen me talking with Mary walked past. "Who is Tom?" I asked.
The nurse pulled me aside and with sadness in her voice said, "Tom was her husband. He's been dead for at least five years now."
My heart just broke. It was all too sad. So many of the people here didn't even know it was Christmas Eve. Could they truly appreciate this service?
We began the devotions, reading scriptures and reciting poetry. Then it was my turn to sing. I began, "O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining ..." And then suddenly, I heard it—another voice singing with me. I turned my head and saw it belonged to Mary! With a radiant smile on her face, she sang strong and clear, as if she were performing as a soloist. The words just flowed from her lips, "It is the night of our dear Savior's birth ..."
I sang past the emotion welling up in my throat, and our voices blended together. This woman who had lost so much showed us that somewhere deep inside her, the flame of life still burned brightly. Although ravaged by Alzheimer's disease, her spirit had not been vanquished. She was alive with song.
Mary kept singing, and gradually, everyone in the room joined in. "Long lay the world, in sin and error pining ..."
As I wiped the tears from my eyes, I noticed that a nurse—our activity director—and a visiting family member did the same.
I'm sure the Lord was looking down and smiling on us all as we sang, "Fall on your knees, and hear the angel's voices ..." Because that's exactly what we were hearing.
Amy Ross Vaughn
Dancing ... the body and the mind feel its gladdening influence.
William Ellery Channing
I loaded the last of my retreat supplies in the back of my minivan then kissed my husband and son good-bye. Not only was I excited about the overnight ladies' retreat where I would be speaking, but I had mapped out a driving route that took me right through the town in which my parents lived. I planned to stop and spend a few hours with them, welcoming any opportunity to visit my mother and father, now eighty-three and eighty-six years old. Often, though, these visits were difficult.
Daddy was in the throes of Alzheimer's disease, and his comprehension and communication were severely impaired. The progression of the illness was devastating, especially to my mother, his mate of sixty-six years. She was now more a caregiver than a wife, and Daddy was often unable to even recognize her face. I grieved for both of them as well as for myself. I wasn't ready to let go of the father I had known forever, the one who was so full of life—smiling, singing, joking, laughing. Where had he gone? How did those "tangles" in the brain rob him of words, faces and places?
Many times, Mama wanted to tell me of personal incidents, thinking I would understand, me being the mother and caregiver of an adult son with special needs. But I didn't want to hear humiliating details of Daddy's debilitating disease. This was still my father, the man who held me on his lap and rocked me as a child, who put me on my first horse to ride, and taught me to drive in an old 1948 Ford pickup truck. This was the daddy who used to show up unexpectedly at my college dormitory to bring me home on weekends when he thought I had stayed away too long. There was no way to divorce myself from those memories, nor did I want to. I held them close to my heart.
Once when I presented him with a framed picture of me, Mama asked, "Do you know who's in that picture?" He smiled and pointed directly at my face, and said, "That's my baby." Indeed, I would always be his baby girl.
But today, after arriving at my parents' home, Daddy gave me a quick hug then went to the bedroom to take a nap while I sat at the kitchen table with Mama. She spilled out her fears, resentment and pain. She had no idea how to cope with Daddy's anger when she didn't fulfill his requests. How could she possibly know what he wanted when she couldn't understand his words or gestures?
Excerpted from Chicken Soup for the Caregiver's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, LeAnn Thieman. Copyright © 2004 John T. Canfield and Hansen and Hansen LLC. Excerpted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC.
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