Less than four months ago, I lost both of my parents to different cancers. They'd been divorced for decades, but were hospitalized the same weekend in September 2016 and died nine days apart in February 2017.
My dad lived in the same town as me, north of Seattle. I work from home so it was "easy" for me to spend all of my time at the hospital while his kidneys failed... then recovered... then slowly shut down again, strangled by bladder cancer that was treated for years as "urinary incontinence."
Meanwhile, my mom was in Honolulu, on the island where I was born and raised. She'd retired there with her sister in 2014, just as they'd been planning for many years. Breast cancer had given her pause in 2015, but after surgery and chemo she was considered to be in remission and was feeling great. Until she had a massive seizure and it was discovered that she had nearly 50 tumors in her brain and a few short months to live.
It was -- and still is -- a very difficult time for me and my family.
I helped both of my parents get into local hospice programs. Through these programs, both of my parents received gentle care and both were able to leave for their next adventure in exactly the way they wanted to -- at home. I was humbled and privileged to be with both of them at the time of their passing.
I admired the hospice care workers for the grace and comfort they bring to people every day. I thought about all of the different kinds of folks they must deal with -- all of those families, with their unique dynamics and customs and relationships, and all dealing with the end of a loved one's life.
"I couldn't do this," I thought to myself. "I just couldn't."
But I wanted to. I wanted to somehow give back to these organizations -- these people, the nurses and aides and social workers and admins and volunteers and doctors and pharmacists and medical supply folks and therapists -- that helped us through my parents' dying processes; who continue to check in on us to see how we are doing. I wanted to know what I, not medically trained in any way, could do.
I could volunteer, I thought to myself. I can't sew or crochet or make any of the beautiful things that I've seen created by and for folks in hospice programs. But surely I can read to folks and run errands and hang out with them, right?
Yes, that's what I'll do, I thought. As soon as I'm stronger. As soon as I can look at an older person or a hospital bed or a tiny syringe or a sponge stick without feeling a well of tears.
But how long will that take? I wondered. Feeling "better" is undefinable and will probably never happen, so it felt selfish to use that as a gauge for when I will begin to give back.
It finally dawned on me that I should play to my strengths, and my biggest strength is writing. Perhaps, by sharing what I have learned about eldercare and hospice (I learned a LOT when juggling two organizations in two states) and by continuing to learn about the eldercare system, I might be able to pay forward the amazing gifts we were all given during those months.
This blog post is the first chapter. I won't be posting regularly for a while; I will be spending the summer months gathering resources, doing research, and, hopefully, getting outside now and then.
This post, then, is a declaration of my intent to learn all I can about eldercare, adding on to what I have already learned as a caregiver to my parents, who between them dealt with dementia, diabetes, hypothyroidism, several different cancers, renal failure, COPD, heart conditions, seizures, and all of the usual things that come on during the stages of dying.
I don't know yet what I will do with the information except share it. Maybe that will be enough, or maybe some other need will show itself.
For now, I thank you for reading this far and hope that you will subscribe so that you'll be notified when the blog officially launches. In the meantime, you can assist me in my search for information by posting any questions you have about eldercare. What do you want or need to know? Tell me your story.
Thanksgiving, 2011. The last time we were all together. Front: My oldest son K, my mom Phyllis, me, my dad Louie. Back: My niece A, my middle son Z, my youngest son B, my brother Tyler.