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GUEST COMMENTARY: Family Caregiver Gives Thanks to a Special Home Health Aide

November 26, 2013

November is National Family Caregivers Month. In honor of this event, guest blogger Nancy Morris writes about being a long-distance family caregiver. She turned to a home health agency when her mother started to decline but wanted to stay in her own home. Morris expresses her deep gratitude for the home health aide who provided invaluable care and comfort to her mother — and gave the entire family peace of mind.

It was so difficult to watch as my mother, Lillian Glasser, began her travel through what would become the final chapters of her life. The once beautiful model was now profoundly deaf and showing signs of dementia. After a fall from a seizure, her downward spiral began.

My mother lived in Florida. My brother lived nearby but worked out of town five days a week. I lived with my family in New York. Although visiting more often was important, it was her daily life that was of great concern. Who was going to be my eyes and ears and be sure she lived her best life, whatever that was? I worked full time and was overwhelmed with emotion and a heart that was breaking. All I was sure of was that my mother deserved as dignified a life as possible.

After my mother’s fall, hospitalization, and rehabilitation stay, it was decided that the best place for her to live was in her home. She would be in familiar surroundings, which she loved, and able to see her friends (being deaf made socializing with new people impossible). Being at home would allow her to keep her spirits as high as possible, even when her body was failing her.

Working full-time made it impossible for me to care for my mom, and moving her north in the middle of the winter did not seem like a great idea. However, she 
could not live by herself any more. Through an agency, we hired a live-in home care aide, hoping this would make it possible for my mother to continue living in her own home.

[Lillian Glasser and her family with Winnie]Entering our lives was one of the most dedicated, wonderful people I have ever met. Her name was Winnie, although my mother renamed her “Willie,” never quite able to make out her real name. This wonderful woman not only became my eyes and ears, but she became my mother’s best friend. When my mom had her hair done, she insisted Winnie have hers done too because that’s what best friends do. This incredible person showed love and compassion and provided my mom with the best life possible. Winnie even flew to New York with her and stayed with us for two weeks the following summer, providing intimate care to my mom. That visit allowed my mother and me to spend quality time together and is one of the best memories that I have of the last few years of her life.

A few months later, my mom broke her hip. In this new chapter, my mother’s needs were greater and she could not go home. She went to a rehabilitation facility for months with Winnie by her side, caring for my mother with love and kindness. My mother was not just her patient — she was her friend. Winnie polished her nails, made sure her hair was done, and dressed her neatly, all of which was very important to my mother — the former model. She held my mother’s hand when she was afraid, took her for walks outside in her wheelchair, and kept us informed of everything. This angel made it possible for everyone to sleep at night — including my mother.

When my mother was moved to a nursing home, Winnie helped with the transition but could not care for her there. This chapter was the saddest of all: my mom 
was not able to advocate for herself and Winnie wasn’t there to do it for her. My mother’s decline was rapid without having Winnie there for her. When I flew down to see my mom, I was always amazed to see Winnie’s name on the guest book. Her visits were not made for money or self-gain. They were a true act of love and devotion and friendship. You have to be a very special type of person to do this work and give this much love.

Our experience with a home health care aide is filled with gratitude and appreciation. My mom had the most dignified, loving final chapters possible because of this special person. I am eternally grateful.

Nancy Morris

Merrick, New York

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