My mother's caregiver gave her more than friendship and physical care. She helped her keep her dignity.
Caring for my ailing mother proved quite difficult. I lived 1,700 miles away. My young family also needed attention so I could manage to visit her just a week to ten days every month.
Mom's respiratory condition worsened. Oxygen, special medication and a lot of bed rest became the fare of the day for her, while fatigue, frustration and financial difficulties foreshadowed my life. Yet I promised myself I'd try to do what was necessary for as long as it took.
"I can't go shopping." "I can't visit my neighbors." "I can't even get to church."
Mom's complaints were unavoidable but valid. Being housebound and isolated from all the activities she so enjoyed caused her to rapidly sink into a state of depression. In a short span of time, it was obvious her mental health deteriorated to the point of worry. On one visit I asked, "How are you managing when I'm not here?"
She replied, "Oh, I don't need much these day. But when I do, Gen, the church lady, as you used to call her, comes by and takes care of me."
"What does she do for you?"
"She tidies up, brings me treats, shops for my groceries, makes me a cup of tea, and keeps me up to date on the latest gossip."
Smiling I said, "She sounds like quite a friend and a natural caregiver."
Mom's face beamed. "Not only to me but to anyone who needs a helping hand. Look at all she's done for the church over the years. Not only does she cook a few meals for the clergy, she dresses the altar with ceremonial linens and flowers and keeps the statues and the pews spotless. She washes, waxes and polishes every inch, from floor to ceiling. When you were just a little girl you always wanted to help her."
I remembered the times I was allowed to go along and do a few small chores.
On another visit, just before Mom was hospitalized, Gen arrived at my mother's door with two home cooked meals.
"I knew you were coming and I had a little extra," she said. "Thought you two girls might enjoy not having to cook tonight."
Gen stayed and visited with me after Mom turned in for the night. I got the low-down on whose children were engaged, getting married, having babies, plus recent deaths and all the new activities at the church. I so appreciated her generosity and company. I thanked her profusely for caring for Mom.
She smiled. "It's my pleasure," she said. "Besides living right up stairs makes it as easy as can be."
"Mom can be stubborn; I'm surprised she agreed to letting you help her."
"We've been friends a long time, so once we worked out a few problems, everything fell into place. Now it's routine."
My stomach tightened. I asked, "What kind of problems?"
"I guess it started the day the washing machine overflowed," she explained. "I knew she didn't follow directions. And since she doesn't have much laundry, I asked if I could wash a few things of my own in her machine using a special low-suds cleaning product. Catherine was delighted. Now it's a regular routine." Gen added, "We've never had another flood."
"Was there any damage to the house?"
Gen shook her head.
My relief only lasted a few seconds when I saw her brow furrow. "Something else?" I asked.
There was a slight pause.
"Well, there was the afternoon I stopped in for tea." She closed her eyes and made the sign of the cross. "The minute I walked in I smelled gas. Seems Catherine went to make a cup of tea, couldn't light the burner on the stove and walked away forgetting to turn the knob back to its off position."
I gasped at the thought of an explosion.
"I opened the windows, aired out the apartment then told her I got a new supply of imported teas from England and hoped she'd help me enjoy them. I promised her I'd come every afternoon. Catherine was thrilled. Now she waits for me to make the tea. Says I have a special touch." Gen smiled. "And, I've never smelled gas since." I said a silent prayer.
Gen leaned in close and patted my hand. "Did you know she's not fond of the Meals on Wheels selections?" Before I could answer she continued. "Catherine took it upon herself to sleep through the delivery time. I told her I loved their food and made a deal to swap it for some of my dishes. We switch all the time now and she's not losing any more weight."
How I missed these potential danger signs baffled me. I pointed to Mom's medication containers on the kitchen counter. "Your idea, too?" A quick nod was followed with, "I convinced her that a different color pill-box for each day makes taking medicine a little more fun. Once we matched a day with a special color, there were no more mistakes."
The more I heard, the more I realized this "church lady" was more than a caregiver; she was an angel. "You're a special person. You've given Mom more than friendship and physical care; you've managed to help her keep her dignity when she needs it most. How can I thank you for your kindness? Can I pay you for your time?"
Shaking her head Gen answered, "Just keep me in your prayers and keep coming as often as you can. I don't think Catherine has much time left."
I promised I would on both accounts and hugged her wholeheartedly. "I worry about her all the time."
"There's no need to worry," Gen told me before she left to go upstairs to her apartment. "I'm here for her; just a few steps away."
Gen was indeed an expert in her field. She washed away my worries and heartaches with her presence and generosity. She waxed my spirit with her unselfish ministry. She polished my faith, hope and charity with her exemplary life.