Affairs in Order, Check
Are you taking care of business? In the event of an unexpected illness or untimely death, will your loved ones grieve over the chore you’ve left behind for them or will they grieve for you?
I was always taken by the story of the famous Delany Sisters, twin sisters who lived to be over 100 years old. They became famous when their oral history, Having Our Say, stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for nearly three years. They were civil rights pioneers and educators, and they took take care of each other until Bessie died at 104. Sadie lived until she was 110 and wrote her third book at 107. I couldn’t have imagined one day I’d get to know a set of twins who would enamor me in the same way.
I met Kellie and Mellie when they were 88 years young. The twins had each lost their husbands years earlier. Kellie was active in church and was the cutest, spunkiest little lady you’d ever want to meet. Despite her age, she was a fashionista, keen and sharp-witted. At 90 she still walked the runway of the annual church fashion show and loved turning heads. Kellie was vibrant, enthusiastic and, as she liked to say, “On fire for the Lord.”
Mellie, her twin, was demure, quiet and had been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She would often point to the one deep dimple on her left cheek and whisper, “This is the one thing that I have that Kellie doesn’t have, but I’d give it to her if I could.”
We met in an elevator at church on a Saturday afternoon. I knew instantly Kellie was a caregiver. Kellie had the look in her eyes all weary caregivers possess, and she was eager to talk to someone who understood her plight. Kellie had two adult children and Mellie had one daughter. Kellie explained that she needed someone to help her plan for the care of her sister on a day-to-day basis. Intuitively, Kellie saw that I could help her move out of the weariness of unconscious caregiving and into empowerment through recognition of the caregiver’s task.
Kellie talked about how close she and her twin sister had always been. She relayed the story of how, years earlier, she had gone to Pittsburg to visit Mellie, whom she had not seen in quite a while. When Kellie arrived at her sister’s home, she was surprised to see her sister had the exact same living room set and bedroom set she had at home. Though hundreds of miles apart, they still had the same taste and preferences and the same peculiarities.
After consulting with Kellie’s son, we put a plan in place that allowed Kellie to hire a caregiver who would come in a couple of times a week. We later added an Adult Day Program so twice a week, Mellie would have a place to go for her own social outlet. As suspected, at first, Mellie resisted, but eventually she got used to the idea of getting out of the house and having activities of her own, an important part of her long-term care therapy. Mellie looked forward to the attention she received at the Adult Day Program and grew quite fond of one volunteer in particular. Miss Pauline took a special interest in Mellie and would paint her fingernails with fun colors and tell her tall tales and engaging stories.
I also introduced Kellie to the Caregiver’s Support Group I attended. By this time, I was sold on the value and importance of a support group for every caregiver. This provided an outlet where Kellie could learn from other caregivers as well as learn about additional resources available to her. Our next stop was the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. We needed to educate Kellie on this disease and provide tools to assist her as things became more challenging. The Alzheimer’s Association is a necessary and valuable resource for anyone dealing with any form of dementia. The local chapter of the Association has a 24-hour help line available that Kellie was able to utilize.
Kellie was keen on taking care of Mellie by herself and only asked for help whenever she really needed it. They had a sister in Nevada who would come out periodically to help, and once or twice a year they would go out to visit her. This allowed Kellie a much needed respite, time to travel and to do the things she wanted to do.
During one of their visits to Nevada, Mellie’s daughter said she wanted to take her mom to church. Unfortunately, Mellie’s daughter had a history of mental illness and there had always been concern about her motives regarding her mother. On this particular Sunday however, she was allowed to take Mellie to church. The time came for their return and there was no sign of them. The daughter did not respond to phone calls and she would not respond when family members appeared at her home.
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