A Tribute to My Caree


A Tribute to My Caree

Selma50YearsAgo-830x388Recently I read Mar's post reminding us we are more than caregivers. A couple days later a photo on Facebook grabbed my attention. It was my young friend, Stevie, down on one knee, ring in hand, proposing to his nurse. It was a link to an article written by his nurse about working on the children's oncology unit. The article relayed how people would ask how she could handle such a sad job. She explained that these kids were much more than their illnesses. That although there were sad moments, her patients were still kids with unique personalities and they often had so many wonderful, joyful moments too. (BTW ― she said yes and still has the ring. Sadly, Stevie lost his battle with leukemia.)

Today, news coverage of the 50-year anniversary of "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, Ala., has me thinking about my mother-in-law, Jan, who was my caree. Early morning last June 21, I was driving to the hospital where she was being treated for pneumonia. A news story caught my attention; it was the 50 year anniversary of the Mississippi civil rights workers' murders. Jan was to die later that night, on that 50th anniversary.

At age 36, Jan joined that historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., after that "Bloody Sunday." Her son tells me how he (at age 13) and his dad feared for her life as she boarded the bus to Alabama. They had a family meeting about her going; she was determined to go. They wondered if they would find a cross burning on their lawn in the lily-white community in which they lived. She indeed walked into Montgomery with Martin Luther King, Jr. and returned home safely fifty years ago.

I never talked about this experience with her. I had read a paper she wrote about it that was published in the local newspaper. But I never realized until after her dementia set in just how significant a personal risk she took to stand up for her beliefs. I began watching documentaries about the Civil Rights era and for the first time in my life, became more aware of just how horrific things were during that time, and how indeed, it was dangerous for her to join that walk. Before her stoke, Jan used to want to talk politics with me but at that time I had no interest. Oh, if only I could talk to her now.

Jan was so compassionate for those in need. When she was 2 years old, she lost her mother during childbirth along with a baby sister. It was the great Depression. Had her mom been in the hospital, all would have survived. Jan would later work as a delivery nurse. (In fact, she worked up til the moment she went into labor with her only son who was then delivered by co-workers.)

I believe the roots of her compassion stem from that early loss. Her aunt, who adopted her, said they worried because she never cried after her mother's death. In fact, I never saw Jan cry, not once, even during the battle of her husband's cancer and his death. She left her seat during her husband's eulogy, to stand next to and support her sister-in-law as she struggled to finish her comments. I imagine she did shed tears at times, I just never saw them. I think she funneled her emotions in other ways. She never complained about her own health or physical pains either. Her son said, "She took sucking it up to a whole new level."

Jan was a strikingly beautiful woman, always impeccably dressed. Her gorgeous blue eyes appear to turn lavender when dressed in lavender. One home doctor commented how beautiful she was, adding "movie star beautiful!"  This comment came when she was 80 something.

Jan was a nurse, mother, wife and an active member of the Women's League of Voters. She loved music and had sung in high school musicals and community theater. In later years she was a Steven's Minister, a Deacon, a caregiver to her (adopted) mother, and then her husband. She counseled an individual with aids at a time when others feared being near.

She even extended her compassion to us one horrible day. I had allowed her to slide off her bedside commode by leaving the room momentarily when I should not have. Her skin sheered off her tailbone area and was bleeding profusely. Her son and I, both teary eyed and scared, were kneeling on the floor, either side of her, trying to figure out what to do. Even in her advanced state of vascular dementia and unable to talk for years, she reached up, put a hand on my shoulder, then the other on his, looked back and forth at each of us with a gentle smile as if to say, "It's okay."

Mind you she, like all of us, was not perfect. She could be extremely critical at times. She frustrated us to no end with some of her habits (especially hoarding and shopping). But when difficult moments arose later while caring for her, it was the knowledge of her strengths, her compassion, her ability to give to those in need that gave me the courage and patience to continue caring for her.

She was much more than my caree.

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Thank you for sharing this deeply touching memory of a beautiful life! You were given such a wonderful gift to have known her as more than a caree.


Great post!\r\nWhen I take care of a client I try to remember that these people have a past & are definitely more than there disease. \r\nMaria


Wonderful tribute. Brought a tear to my eyes. Thanks for sharing!