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.Caregiver of the Month

May 2002
Becky Kesler

Becky & Jeff

My Gift

I met my husband Jeff in the spring of 1992. He was a dynamic and confident man from the beginning, and it didn’t take long for me to know that he was the man I would marry. That was only the beginning… Jeff took me home to meet his parents (his family called them Mommo & Poppo), shortly after we met and I met the woman who would change everything about me. Jeff’s mom, Claribel, was the kindest most loving person I had ever met. She had a gift for making each and every person she knew feel so important and cared for. Jeff and I spent many weekends in his hometown with his parents and family.

To me, it seemed that I belonged there in the big old house that Jeff’s mother’s parents had built long ago. We lived in my hometown at the time, where I worked for 10 years in marketing at a large company. I was traveling quite a bit and not enjoying any aspect of corporate life or being away from Jeff for a week or more at a time. My mother and brother and his family lived in my hometown, too, and I have another brother in Chicago. I was very comfortable there and used to having my family close by. In the early summer of 1994, my father died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 54. No words could describe what I felt - I was totally devastated. This was one of the many things that would change me forever. I discovered that life was short, sometimes too short, and that I was not “fulfilled” with the role I was playing in my own life.

Jeff is the baby of five children, and his parents were both in their 40’s when he was born – they had always seemed like grandparents to me rather than my in-laws. I’m very close with my own grandma who lives only 45 minutes away from me, but there was something about Jeff’s Mom that was so special. She always seemed to know what I was feeling, and that I needed the extra “loving” she so willingly gave.

When Jeff and I had been married a few years, Mommo became ill. After a surgery and a slow recovery, she was home (as she wanted to be) and bed-ridden. She was a little lady and seemed so frail, but always had a kind word and an “I love you” for anyone who had the pleasure of her company. My sister-in-law Phyllis was so dedicated to Mommo’s care, making sure that she was fed, bathed, and cared for each and every day. Poppo was still in very good health at the time, but unable to care for Mommo with the personal things that she needed. Pop (at 89 years old) was still driving his car, reading the newspaper and playing 18 holes of golf every day. I have always marveled at how he was able to do all of these things – seemed he would never grow old.

loved to visit on the weekends. I would have quality time with Jeff’s mom, and learned from Phyllis all the necessary things to do to care for Mommo. It was a labor of love, she was the sweetest thing I had ever met, and I loved her dearly. It was a special time for me, I had the time and the energy to learn to care for her, and learn from her at the same time. We knew, in the long run that we would lose Mommo - her body was slowly deteriorating to the point where she was just existing – the day she passed away was a hard day. Seems that you are never totally prepared for losing someone you love so much, even though you know that it is inevitable. Once, on a weekend when Jeff & I were visiting Mommo & Poppo, we sat at their kitchen table and decided that if the family would allow us, we would move back to his hometown into the house and continue to care for Poppo after Mommo was gone. It was always important for her to keep her large family together, and most important that she and Pop be able to remain at home as long as they could stay there.

We were excited by our new plans, but unable to come up with a time-frame to put things in motion. It’s hard to make a change when you’re used to living your life a certain way. I was very excited to quit my job, didn’t seem to have a problem there, but selling our house and all the things that go along with a big move like this one was difficult. Jeff was teaching in the school system in my hometown, and would have to search out and interview for a new position closer to Logansport.

knew that with the move I would become the primary caregiver to Poppo. I absolutely had no reservations about that – hindsight is 20/20 they say – we went into so confident with our plans and goals, not realizing that he would deteriorate so quickly. Our plans were to basically be his “social life” – take him to the golf course, ball games, etc., along with monitoring his daily needs/routines. He had always been so self sufficient and capable. We really had no anticipation of him slipping so quickly.

I quit my job in January of 2001. Within 2 weeks of my new-found freedom from a “real” job, Pop began to have acute anxiety attacks – I knew quickly that I had accepted an even “realer” job, totally responsible for a human life. I think, in a way, Pop knew that Mommo was not getting better, he had gone for so long thinking that she would, and down deep he knew he was losing her. It was that point in time that we moved into the “big house”. We were no longer able to leave Pop alone, as the anxiety attacks were happening at any given time of the day or night. Mommo passed away 2 weeks later. I still think that she was waiting for us to move in… that she knew we would take care of Pop and that things would be okay.

And now, 15 months later, I am still Poppo’s primary caregiver. He has slowly become unable to care for himself at all. We’ve been through months and months of acute anxiety attacks that have worn him down slowly. Now, we’re in a position where Pop will have to go to the nursing home. His daily care is much too much for me to handle alone. I do know, though, with all conviction, that I have done everything I can for him and he will be well cared for. When he does move, I know that it will be me who is affected the most – I have spent every moment of every day for the past 16 months with him – I know nothing else besides his daily routines. His comfort and dignity have been my first priority for a very long time.

The challenge of being a caregiver has been extreme. Firstly, because I quit my job and moved to a new town where I knew no one, had no friends close by and really no one to talk to. I’m 39 years old and it was truly the first time I had been away from my Mom – but I knew it was the right thing for me to do. I am alone with a 90 year old for far too many hours in the day. There have been days, especially with Pop’s anxiety problems, that I was ready to call it quits, I felt so alone and distraught… although I never admitted it out loud to anyone. I committed myself to my husband and his family and I have been determined to see it through as far as I can take it.

It’s been a long road with Pop – sad to see him lose the independence that he had for all of those years. I’ve learned that I have more patience than I ever knew… but I know that I’m doing it for love. For my husband, who loves his parents dearly, and for a great lady that will always be Mommo to me, who made me see that everyone has a gift in themselves – of their time, patience, respect and love of family.

To my friends at Empowering Caregivers… I happened upon you a few months ago by complete accident. The beautiful and loving people I’ve met, the information available to me, and the constant support from each and every one of you has been a memory I will keep for the rest of my life. You are all now part of my soul – I don’t tell you often enough how much you mean to me.

I try and spend time each night before I go to bed reflecting on my life. I pray for the strength to get through another day – and that my family and I can accept and endure emotionally what is going happen next. We’ve always been blessed - things always work out for the best. Even the bad experiences have a way of delivering a message that we can never ignore.

EMAIL: Becky

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