Tag Archive | hospice

Caring for Parents

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My mom in June, 1986, about the time she was diagnosed with liver cancer.

Thirty years ago, in 1986, Mim and I were still living in Chicago. That’s when my mom was diagnosed with liver cancer. She was 78. Mom and Dad were living on the farm in Cambridge, Wisconsin where Mom had lived her whole life. When Mom told Mim and me about the diagnosis, we made weekly trips from Chicago to Cambridge to take her to the clinic in nearby Stoughton for chemotherapy. After a few weeks of chemo, Mom chose to discontinue the treatments because of how sick they made her feel. Her oncologist predicted she would live only two or three months without more treatments, maybe a year or two with treatments.

A couple weeks after Mom stopped receiving chemo, Mim and I went to Door County in northeastern Wisconsin for a week-long vacation. We stopped to see my parents on our way, mostly to see how Mom was doing. Already she was much weaker.

Mim and I had a wonderful week relaxing in Door County. Little did we know that God was providing a week of rest for us before what would become an intense six-week period of caregiving.

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Relaxing in Door County

On our way back to Chicago we stopped to see my parents again. Mom’s health had deteriorated further and she was quite weak. We offered to get Hospice and some local caregivers lined up to help Dad care for her at home. As an alternative, we invited Mom and Dad to come to Chicago to live with us, and we (mostly Mim) would take care of her.

We stayed overnight at the farm with my parents. The next morning, Mom got up and said she’d made up her mind. She wanted to go home with us to Chicago. We spent the next few hours helping Mom and Dad pack up their things – a few clothes, Mom’s crocheting, and their Bibles. We told my brother and sister about the new plan, and they came over to the farm to say goodbye and help pack up for the move.

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Mom and Dad with their grandchildren celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, about a month before Mom and Dad came to live with us.

Dad rode to Chicago with Mim and me in my car. My nephew Dave drove Mom in his parents’ van so that Mom could be lying down for the two-hour ride. Then Dave carried her up the stairs to our second-floor apartment.

We called Hospice the next day to help us get a hospital bed and a local hospice physician to prescribe pain medication. We also enlisted one of the physicians Mim had previous worked with at Circle Christian Health Center on the west side of Chicago. He was willing to become her primary care physician and to make house calls for us.

Mim was teaching nursing at North Park College at the time, and she had a flexible work schedule. She also had very kind and highly skilled colleagues who volunteered to help care for my mom to give Mim and me a little time off from round-the-clock care giving. I had just left my corporate job and was in the process of starting up my own small business consulting practice, which meant that I also had a flexible work schedule.

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Mom and Dad reading the Sunday paper together in the sun room nook of our living room.

We turned our living room into Mom’s room. For the first couple weeks Mom was able to walk around the apartment and eat with Dad, Mim and me in the dining room. As she got weaker, she spent almost all of her time in the living room. I played her favorite hymns on the piano, over and over again. I read to her. She really liked “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” by Barbara Robinson, a good story that made her smile and laugh. She also enjoyed having me read to her from the Psalms. My brother and sister and their families came down to visit Mom and Dad weekly.

While Mom was living with us, Mim periodically asked her, “Do you know where you are?” as a means of monitoring her mental well-being and cognitive decline. One day Mom answered, “I know you want me to say I’m in Chicago, but I’m not. I’m at home.” That said to us we were providing the kind of care she needed.

Mom lived with us for six weeks. She was the first of more than twenty people who have lived with us during their final weeks on earth. There can be many precious moments as the end of a person’s earthly life approaches. We’re thankful for the opportunity to share these special times.

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My sister Nancy visiting with Mom

Caring for Mom throughout the last weeks of her life happened thirty years ago. Why am I thinking about it today? A very close friend of mine is living through a similar experience in her life right now, and she is under an incredible amount of stress. Her parents, both in their 90s, have been in relatively good health and have been living in their own home in northern Illinois. That all started to change a couple weeks ago.

First, her father, who has been the healthier of the two, got quite sick and had to be hospitalized for a few days. My friend took a few days off from work (she’s a teacher) to go to Illinois to care for her mother, and also to be an advocate for her father as he was being shuffled through the impersonal and complex medical system that has replaced family doctors and community hospitals.

Then my friend’s mother became very weak, and she had to be temporarily moved into a caregiving facility, just as my friend’s father was being sent home from the hospital. Her mother’s doctor said she is no longer capable of living at home and must move into an assisted living facility. Her father’s doctor said he can’t drive, although he can live at home if he wants. However, if he can’t drive, going to see his wife – wherever she ends up – may be very difficult.

My friend is trying to help her parents figure out their options and move ahead into the next phase of their lives, which may be moving into an assisted living facility together – although at this point her father is unwilling to consider any option that involves him leaving his home. Meanwhile, my friend is driving back and forth to Illinois (a couple hours each way) almost every day, or every other day, as her already busy life in Cambridge goes on.

So what can I do to help my friend? Good question. I can listen. I can pray. And occasionally maybe I can even do a few practical things like checking in on her home while she’s gone.

About a year ago, a good friend of mine in Chicago went through a similar crisis with her parents. Again, about all I could do was listen and pray.

“Honor your father and your mother” is one of the Ten Commandments that almost everyone remembers. As we get older, honoring them means more than obeying them. In my case, honoring my mother in her last days meant having her live with Mim and me in our home in Chicago – and making her feel so at home there that she really knew that she was at home. In our friend’s case, the best way of honoring her mother and her father is still a mystery. That’s partly why she is feeling so much stress these days. I guess that’s why Jesus told us in his simplified list of only two commandments, that the second most important commandment, after loving God, is to love our neighbor as ourself. (Matthew 22: 39) That’s why I’ll be praying every day for my friend while she is caring for her mother and her father in whatever way she can.

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Awful August – except for …

Broken Glass grass and skyDoes it ever seem like your world is shattered? That life is suddenly broken? For some of my family members, that’s what August has been like this year.

I guess I would describe August 2014 along two tracks of events. One track is affecting my broadly extended family. The other track is affecting Mim and me mostly, and a few other unrelated people. I feel like I’ve been running as fast as I can along the “Mim and me track,” but the “broader family track” keeps pulling me over to slow down and cry with my family and wonder what’s happening in our world.

Sandy and Conrad looking out their kitchen window while hospice volunteers did spring yard work.

Sandy and Conrad looking out their kitchen window while hospice volunteers did spring yard work.

Perhaps I should begin by explaining who my “broadly extended family” includes. My brother, Danny, married his high school sweetheart, Sandy, shortly after they graduated from high school in the mid-1960s. They had two kids, Cindy and Kevin. As Danny and Sandy matured, they grew in different directions and divorced when their kids were still young. Danny and Sandy still stayed in contact over the years, primarily because of their kids. They both remarried twice, bringing more in-laws and nieces (no more nephews) into the family. We’re a big, complicated (but probably fairly typical) extended family. I think of Sandy as my first sister-in-law. She is still part of my “broadly extended family.” I knew Sandy in high school, even before she dated my brother. I’ve always liked and admired Sandy. She made me laugh a lot with her quick wit.

Sandy and Conrad holding handsSandy has been in declining health for the last few years, even though she’s only 67. Several months ago Kevin took the picture of his mother and her husband, Conrad, holding hands when she was in the hospital. Kevin had gone to visit her, and he found them both asleep but still comforting each other.

A few days later she was released from the hospital, to go home on hospice. Conrad would take care of her at home.

On Monday evening, August 4, Conrad went to Subway to get sandwiches. He was killed in a car accident on his way home, on the street right in front of their home.

Sandy was devastated. She lost all will to live. She died 16 days later. Her funeral is today.

Kevin has three daughters and his sister Cindy has two sons – all who lost two very loving grandparents in August. It’s been a very sad month. We’re reminded of the observation in Ecclesiastes 3, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die… a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” But it’s really hard when two deaths – of people you love deeply – come so close together. Too much time to weep. Too much time to mourn. And no time to laugh and dance.

Farmhouse exterior - summerOn the “Mim and me track,” our farmhouse is moving quickly into its next phase. As you may recall, six years ago we turned the farmhouse into a bed-and-breakfast style spiritual retreat center. We named it Whispering Winds Retreat Haven. A year and a half ago we put Whispering Winds on hiatus and agreed to rent the farmhouse to a family who needed a place to live for a couple years. On August 3rd the renters moved out, five months earlier than planned. We were okay with that because the renters were able to buy a home of their own sooner than they expected, and we really wanted to spruce up the place and try to sell it.

A few days before the renters moved out, I received an email from someone (Jeff) who wanted to talk with me about collaborating on reopening the farmhouse as a retreat center. Eventually Jeff would like to buy the place, but for now he wanted to see if we could work together to reopen the farmhouse as a retreat center. We scheduled a time to get together at the farm and talk. That meant Mim and I had just over a week to “spruce” up the place before our meeting.

We quickly realized that we had a bigger clean-up job on our hands than we had anticipated, and we would need help. Amazingly, within that one week in early August, we had two women from a cleaning service deep-clean the five bathrooms and the kitchen; five men from a landscaping service spend a full day weeding, pruning, and removing three truckloads of brush from the yard; another handyman mow our 3-acre lawn and spread 8 more yards of mulch (he had spread 10 yards earlier in the season); our HVAC service man clean the furnace and repair the central AC; and a friend help us carry a dozen heavy boxes of dishes, glasses, flatware, and other furnishings up from the basement. With all that help, the house was presentable for our meeting with Jeff to explore the possibility of collaborating on a retreat center.

The next week, we had a friend paint walls and ceilings as needed throughout the house, reinstall parts of the kitchen cabinets, and replace the garbage disposal and faucet in the kitchen sink. Mim and I worked, too – mostly moving around furnishings to make the house look like a B&B retreat center again. It was an amazing transformation! Oh, and we also bought a new range to replace the one that had been accidentally damaged beyond repair by trying to clean the self-cleaning ovens with a spray-on oven cleaner. (Caution: Don’t ever do that!)

We were amazed. With the help of half a dozen friends and half a dozen strangers, our farmhouse was completely transformed within a couple weeks – all within the same timeframe between Conrad’s death and Sandy’s death.

Stone Meadows Condominiums

Stone Meadows Condominiums

The day after our meeting with the retreat guy (which had been a great time for sharing ideas, but probably not the beginning of a retreat collaboration), our realtor showed the house to a prospective buyer. Thanks to all the help we had received over the past week the house and 3-acre lawn were completely ready for showing!

But then everything changed. Our friend Sharon, who was renting one of the condos in the duplex next door to ours, was told that her condo had been sold and she would need to move out within a month or so. Sharon is the friend who had welcomed “Mary,” one of the 93-year-olds we care for, as a short-term roommate because we didn’t have room for her in our condo.

So… that’s what the next phase is going to be in the life of our farmhouse… Sharon and “Mary” are going to move into the farmhouse next month. Sharon may also invite her 90-year-old parents to join her for the winter months. We’ve talked with our real estate agent and have decided to take the farmhouse off the market. It seems pretty obvious that this is where Sharon and “Mary” need to be for the next several months.

That’s August 2014. Track one is filled with sadness. Track two is filled with fast-paced problem-solving and lots of hard work. Between the two tracks, we’ve been able to deeply sense God’s presence, God’s comforting love. I guess that’s why I played “God Will Take Care of You” for the prelude last Sunday in church. The awful August of 2014 demonstrates this truth. We’re not in this world alone. God is with us, as are the friends and family God has sent to comfort us, as well as the kind strangers God has ready to help us with our various challenges.

Be not dismayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you;
Beneath God’s wings of love abide, God will take care of you.

Refrain:
God will take care of you, Thru ev’ry day, O’er all the way;
God will take care of you, God will take care of you.

Thru days of toil when heart grows frail, God will take care of you;
When dangers fierce your path assail, God will take care of you.

All you may need God will provide, God will take care of you;
Nothing you ask will be denied, God will take care of you.

No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon God’s breast, God will take care of you.

[Civilla D. Martin, 1904]

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An Endless Supply of Grandmas

Abbey welcoming Edith when she first came to live with us.

Abbey welcoming Edith when she first came to live with us.

Doris and Abbey comforting each other.

Doris and Abbey reminding each other how much love there is in the world

Seven years ago, Mim and I were interviewed by a 12-year-old boy. We wanted to adopt his 3-year-old dog Abbey. He wasn’t able to keep her any more, and he put her up for adoption through the Humane Society.  We saw Abbey’s picture on the Internet, and called the number listed to schedule a time to meet Abbey and be interviewed by the 12-year-old. During the interview, we told him that Abbey would have an endless supply of grandmas to pet her if she would live with us. That clinched it. We were chosen to be the lucky ones among all the people who wanted to adopt Abbey.

Over the last couple weeks I’ve been developing new marketing materials for Country Comforts Assisted Living. That got me thinking about all the grandmas and grandpas that have lived with us for assisted living over the years. I remembered that promise to Abbey’s previous owner. Yes, Abbey has been fortunate to have all those grandmas and grandpas to pet her.

Abbey comforting Patti during her last days

Abbey comforting Patti during her last days

But Abbey isn’t the only one who’s been fortunate. Mim and I are the “middle generation” between Abbey and these grandmas and grandpas. We’ve been blessed with all these “moms” and “dads.” Most people get only one mom and one dad. Over the past ten years we’ve had almost twenty“moms” and three “dads.” How fortunate is that – to get all these bonus moms and dads after our own were no longer with us!

What prompted me to develop new marketing materials for Country Comforts is the fact that this year we changed our focus from general assisted living care to end-of-life care. When people draw near to the end of their life, often they choose to receive hospice care at home with their loved ones taking care of them. A hospice organization can provide help, but the majority of caregiving is done by family members. Sometimes, family members are not able to give the end-of-life care at home that their loved one needs. That’s where Country Comforts can help. Rather than going to a nursing home, their loved one can move into our home where we will provide the skilled and attentive care they need. We will work together with the hospice organization of the family’s choice to care for the loved one and help coordinate a wide range of end-of-life issues – physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and legal. Our role is to support the resident and their family in any way we can.

Abbey helping Anna celebrate her birthday

Abbey helping Anna celebrate her birthday

While putting together brochures to explain the end-of-life care we want to provide, I went through pictures of many of these special people who have entered our lives over the past ten years. Our lives really have been enriched by each person who has lived with us. One whole section of the book I wrote about hospitality (Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest) is about the people who have lived with us for assisted living. In the book, I tell a one- or two-page story about each person. I’ve re-read that section of the book many times to let my mind spend more time remembering each one. (You can find more information about the book at http://mariankorth.com/come-lord-jesus.html.)

Some of these bonus grandmas (or moms, depending on your perspective) are pictured here. More of them are included on our Country Comforts website (www.CountryComfortsAssistedLiving.com). I redesigned the website last weekend to reflect our new focus. If you take a peek at the website and are confused by any explanations that are unclear or find any bad links, please let me know. I’ll appreciate any suggestions you may have to make our website better. We want to be sure Abbey never runs out of the endless supply of grandmas we promised her.

A Peek at my Second Book

Come Lord Jesus FRONTMy goal for this week is to finish reviewing the proofs for my second book, Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest: Adventures in Hospitality . (My real goal was to finish this task last week, but lots of other things happened instead, including accepting the opportunity to be hospitable to the newest assisted living resident in our home.) Rather than take a couple hours this morning to write a new blog post, I decided to provide a peek at one of the stories in my new book.

The book traces my understanding of what it means to be kind and hospitable to others, as the Bible instructs us, by telling a total of 90 personal stories, spanning the time frame of my childhood up to the present. I firmly believe that one of the key (and most ignored) messages of the Bible is to be kind and hospitable to others. In my book each story begins with a Bible verse that states the principle I learned from the incident, or in some other way relates the story to the overall theme of hospitality.

The story I selected for today’s sneak preview is about when my mom and dad came to Chicago to live with us for the last six weeks of my mom’s life. We had some wonderful moments together during that time. Here’s the story.

Caring for Mom as She Was Dying

Anyone who neglects to care for family members in need repudiates the faith.
That’s worse than refusing to believe in the first place.” [I Timothy 5:8 MSG]

At age 78 my mother was diagnosed with liver cancer. After the diagnosis, Mim and I made weekly trips to Wisconsin to take her to the clinic for chemotherapy. After a few weeks she chose to discontinue the treatments because of how sick they made her feel. Her doctor predicted she would live only two or three months without more treatments, maybe a year or two with treatments.

A couple weeks after my mom stopped receiving chemo Mim and I went to Door County in northeastern Wisconsin for a week-long vacation. We stopped to see my parents on our way up there, mostly to see how my mom was doing. Already she was much weaker.

Mim and I had a wonderful week relaxing in Door County. Little did we know that God was providing a week of rest for us before what would become an intense six-week period of care giving.

On our way back to Chicago we stopped to see my parents again. My mom’s health had deteriorated further and she was quite weak. We offered to get Hospice and some local caregivers lined up to help my dad care for her at home. As an alternative, we invited her and my dad to come to Chicago to live with us, and we (mostly Mim) would take care of her.

We stayed with my parents for the night. The next morning, my mom got up and said she’d made up her mind. She wanted to come home with us to Chicago. We spent the next few hours helping my mom and dad pack up their things – a few clothes, my mom’s crocheting, and their Bibles. We told my brother and sister about the new plan, and they came over to help pack up for the move.

Dad rode with Mim and me in my car. My nephew, Dave, drove Mom in his parents’ van, so that she could be lying down for the two-hour drive. Then Dave carried her up the stairs to our second-floor apartment.

We called Hospice the next day to help us get a hospital bed and a local physician to prescribe pain medication. We also enlisted one of the physicians Mim had worked with to be Mom’s primary care physician.

Mim was teaching nursing at North Park College at the time, and had a flexible schedule. She also had very kind and highly skilled colleagues who volunteered to help care for Mom to give Mim and me a little time off from round-the-clock care giving. I had just left my corporate job and was in the process of starting up my own small business consulting practice, which meant that I also had a flexible schedule.

We turned our living room into Mom’s room. For the first couple weeks she was able to walk around the apartment and eat with us in the dining room. As she got weaker, she spent most of her time in the living room. I played her favorite hymns on the piano, over and over again. I read to her. She really liked The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, a good story that made her smile and laugh. My brother and sister and their families came down to visit her weekly. Her two brothers and their wives came to visit, too.

While Mom lived with us, Mim periodically asked her, “Do you know where you are?” as a means of monitoring her mental well-being and cognitive decline. One day Mom answered, “I know you want me to say I’m in Chicago, but I’m not. I’m at home.” That said to us we were providing the kind of hospitality she needed.

Mom lived with us for six weeks. She was the first of several people we have invited to live with us during their final weeks on earth. There can be many precious moments as the end of a person’s earthly life approaches. We’re thankful for the opportunity to share those special times.

Mom kept crocheting  afghans for babies of teenage mothers in Chicago until just a few weeks before she died.

Mom kept crocheting afghans for babies of poor teenage mothers in Chicago until just a few weeks before she died.