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Sharing is Caring:

Shared Heartbreak


When I started blogging a few months ago, I was sharing the caregiving story of our two parents: my father and my husband’s mother. Now there is one. We buried my 93-year-old mother-in-law earlier this month.

After gradually declining health the past three years, she died very suddenly. Her exit came too quickly for us to make the 50-mile trip to hold her hand and tell her goodbye. We just didn’t get there in time.

She died in a nursing home, where she’d lived since 2013, after being in her own home with family and professional caregiving help for as long as my husband’s family could manage.

In the past few months of her life, she had become wheelchair-bound, incontinent, nearly blind, unable to chew, on oxygen 24-7 and suffering from dementia. She still knew us when we came and was thrilled to greet us, even though she often forgot who we were five minutes after we arrived.

So her death was bittersweet. We were sad, but she had suffered so much that we were also relieved.

Even though we weren’t there to share her passing, others were. I’ve heard so many deathbed stories from professional caregiver companions in my job as a writer for Home Instead. Most of these caregivers work in seniors’ homes. But regardless of whether they are in a private home providing companionship or in a care community assisting with medical support, those end-of-life, real-life tales are moving and compelling.

Professional caregivers provide comfort, read scripture, ease anxiety and, when it is all over, suffer the trauma and heartbreak of loss, just like family. Some need time to recover. I thought I understood.

But I didn’t have a clue. Not one.  It never sunk in until it was personal. The picture I saw

when we made that final trip into my mother-in-law’s care community the morning she died was worth the thousands of words I have written. And that picture has changed my view of caregiving for good.

Two of my mother-in-law’s caregivers were waiting for us. I broke down after one look at them. With tears streaming down their cheeks, they threw their arms around me and my husband and sobbed. Yes, our loved one’s passing was personal to us. Turns out, it was personal to them, too.

When my husband’s mother moved into the care home nearly two years ago, there were only glimpses of the woman she had been. The feisty business owner – a woman ahead of her time – who had owned and operated a Dairy Queen business even after being widowed young, the generous lady who would give anyone the shirt off her back, the dog lover, the baker, the knitter, the football fan, the mother and grandma.

My late mother-in-law with a volunteer at her care community.

It took some digging to find her behind the ravages of aging. But these caregivers looked and, somehow, got to know her, and love her.

We saw the same look in the eyes of the nurse who had been with my mother-in-law the past two years and attended her passing. The one who had laughed at her funny comments, helped her when she wasn’t feeling well and kept us updated at the slightest change. The one who assured us she went quickly, peacefully and ready.  In the end, she thanked us for the privilege of caring for our loved one.

I thought about the toll it takes to provide care in a place where the “in memoriam” board adds new names, often weekly. How do these people face loss, sometimes each day? How do they share heartbreak and continue on, doing what they do best?

I may never know the answers, but I’ll be forever grateful.

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. October 19, 2015 at 7:58 am | Posted by Peg

    My 85 year old Mom lived 4 hours drive away with congestive heart failure and would NEVER consider moving with us or into a beautiful residence across from her church. I didn't know how to begin a search for the reliable help she needed and never received anything from any social worker at any hospital. I am so grateful Home Instead has started advertising and addressing corporate groups. The experience lead me to work for Home Instead and witness first hand the the diligence we take in finding the right people. I share this story so all of the Daughters out there can know whom to trust with their Mom or Dad.


  2. October 17, 2015 at 10:37 am | Posted by Judy

    I have been a caregiver for many years, worked with many different people from many different backgrounds and varying family involvement. It's always a beautiful thing, when the family members are close to their loved one and often in their daily lives. But I understand the difficulty of "getting there in time" for family that live some distance away. I also need to say, it is ALWAYS personal ! And it is also an HONOR to care for these special people !


  3. October 17, 2015 at 7:52 am | Posted by Margarita

    Thank you for sharing your story


  4. October 16, 2015 at 5:11 pm | Posted by Benjamin

    My mother is 85 years old. My sister, brother and myself take care of her along with some aids that we pay. The load was extremely difficult in the beginning, but now has been made manageable by the fact that we've done a good job taking care of mom for the past 5-6 years. We have learned our strengths and how to give each other space when needed. This is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. But so rewarding. Mom is a total assist, so we have to bathe her, feed her and take her to the bathroom. My admiration for all caregivers out there. You deserve a world of thanks! May God give us the strength and patience to continue wrapping our loved ones with comfort and love. Benjamin


    • October 22, 2015 at 4:13 pm | Posted by Georgene

      Your mother is a lucky woman, Benjamin! Thank you for sharing your journey. I pray that you all stay healthy while you care for your mom.


  5. October 15, 2015 at 10:13 am | Posted by Cindy Atkinson

    I have worked at an Independent Living facility for fifteen years. Employees never get complacent with the passing of our residents who have often become loved members of our community. It is important for families to understand that our jobs are much more than jobs, they are vocations that we are very vested in.Seeing frequent death notices can be very emotionally jarring, but I try to think that, in some small way, we have added value and happiness to residents final years. I know for sure that I have always received more from knowing them than I have given!


    • October 22, 2015 at 4:11 pm | Posted by Georgene

      So very true, Cindy! Thank you for sharing and thanks as well for your service to seniors.


  6. September 24, 2015 at 9:57 pm | Posted by Cindi

    That was beautiful and so touching. You were fortunate to have such amazing caregivers. God bless you and your hubby as you grieve her loss and celebrate her life.


  7. September 16, 2015 at 9:04 pm | Posted by Georgene Lahm

    Thank you, Jean!


  8. September 15, 2015 at 6:13 pm | Posted by Jean Lahm Issler

    What a touching insight into Aunt Camille's life. I didn't see her often in the last years. Thank you.


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