We asked Kelly to share her experience caring for several members of her family, who relied on her as they aged. Here’s the beautiful story and advice she shared with us, and other caregivers –
As part of a small family, caregiving is second nature to us.
When my grandfather was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) in 1990, it was devastating to hear and scary not knowing much about this disease. As long as I could remember, my grandpa was healthy as on ox and strong as a horse. I cannot even recall a time he was sick with more than a cold for a day or two. The youngest of four children, he grew up fast at the tail end of the Great Depression, quitting school with only an 8th grade education to stay home to work on the family farm, he served our country in the Korean War and married the love of his life, Martha, in 1953. Together Harold and Martha Seils raised a beautiful daughter, my mom Terry.
Because of our family values, we spent a lot of time together as a family, so it was no wonder that when my grandpa began his treatment (e.g. chemotherapy) we all pitched in to help my grandma at home as well as taking turns spending the night with my grandpa in the hospital. We learned quickly that it was going to take a village to get my grandpa healthy enough to eat to maintain his strength. The hospital food was less than enticing, some of the food we brought from home tasted metallic, and he begged us to dump the Ensure meal replacement drinks down the sink when the nurses were not looking. What we found that worked was milkshakes. Therefore, we tricked my grandpa by making shakes with his ensure and he happily drank them. He was getting some fat and calories from the ice cream and the nutrients he needed to fight the good fight.
He was in remission for four whole months before the leukemia reared its ugly head. Those were the best four months of the rest my grandpa’s life; he bought a new truck, bought my grandma a newer used car, went fishing a lot and even got to go deer hunting one last time.
Through it all, we put on a brave face while watching the man I always thought was larger than life fade away before us. I held his hand as he took his last breath on June 10, 1992 and told him I loved him as a tear rolled down his face. It was then that I knew I could not be a nurse and I dropped out of college to move in with my grandma and got a full-time job to help her. Between my sister Kristen and me, we lived with our grandma for a total 9 years until it became apparent my Grandma could not be home alone during the day. Diagnosed with macular degeneration when I lived with her, her eyesight was failing her. In May of 2001, my grandma almost burnt the house down trying to make a grilled cheese for lunch…so my mom and dad moved in with her when Kristen and I got an apartment together in 2001.
Fast forward to 2007, my spunky grandma, Grammy as we so fondly called her, was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Again, my family worked together to help take care of my grandma and give my mom, her 24-hour caregiver a break. Sure, hospice came in, but it was hard to find someone to give my mom a break on the weekends. I spent many Saturdays at my grandma’s/parent’s house sitting with my grandma listening to her tell stories, holding her hand as we watched television together, changing her diaper because she could no longer get out of bed, feeding her yogurt and applesauce with her medicine hidden in it, all with the utmost love and compassion I could muster.
My grandma peacefully passed away on January 8, 2008. She was happy she made it to her 80th birthday, November 18, 2007 and slipped into a coma shortly after Thanksgiving that year. Through it all, we stayed by her side and talked to her about our day and the holidays, just in case she could still hear us.
The most important thing we all learned was that in order to be effective as a caregiver, we had to take time for ourselves to recharge and regroup. It is not a bad thing to put yourself first occasionally when in a caregiver position. If you do not, you will be no good when the time of need is upon you.
- Kelly G