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Ready, Willis and Able – Love has many forms (Feb. 18, 2015 issue)

This is the month of Valentine’s Day, and I am sharing thoughts, not on the sentimental and commercial aspects of love often associated with the holiday, but on real life and love in caring for an elderly parent. After my mother died, I chose not to process my feelings in this column. But now, I want to share some thoughts about the three years I cared for Mom rather than putting her in a nursing home.
My parents had lived on Love Street in Erwin since the 1980s. But Mom wasn’t a town girl. She was a mountain woman. As I like to tell my friends, she was a red-headed Higgins from Big Branch. In other words, she had a mind of her own. And that red hair never turned gray. When she started “slipping” as mountain folks say, she insisted that she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself. What was I to do?
My sisters all lived in another state and my brother had a very demanding job. But I didn’t have the heart to put Mom in a nursing home. My brother lived on Elm Street. We talked and he agreed to go to Mom if she needed help at night. Mom had a Life Line necklace she could press in case of emergencies.
In the beginning the dementia wasn’t too bad. I provided food and other support for Mom so that she could still stay by herself. But as time progressed, I began needing help. Former Senior Center Director Charlene O’Dell helped me find agencies that provided some in-home care. But I always had to be there to talk Mom into letting them do foot care or whatever else was needed. Fortunately, my nephew Randy Arrowood eventually moved back to Erwin, and he was able to get Mom to take her medication when I couldn’t be there.
Dr. Charles Miller was Mom’s primary care physician. His office was just up the street from Mom’s house. Dr. Miller and his staff also became one of our lifelines. Once, I took Mom to his office on the wrong day. Dr. Miller and his staff were working the nursing homes, so we couldn’t see them. Believe me, bathing a dementia patient and talking them into getting in the car so you can take them to the doctor is no small matter. I felt like lying down in the floor and crying, but of course, I couldn’t. Yet, if I had, I know that the office attendant would have done what she could to help us both.
The tears came later. My husband Leo listened not only to the humorous incidents involved in caring for Mom but also to the heart-hurting ones. This column is my valentine to Leo, my mother, my readers, and those mentioned or unmentioned, who helped during our three year adventure during which I became the mother and Mom became the child. We did it like mountain women, didn’t we Mom?