This is a tale of two caregivers.
The first is Margaret Rose, affectionately known as Marty. Marty cherished her friend and family relationships, including the one with my father-in-law (FIL), her dad. So in May, when FIL was rehabilitating in a Shawnee nursing facility after a bout with pneumonia, Marty flew from her home in Florida to spend a week with him.
She drove to see FIL every morning and stayed by his side all day. She read to him from the newspaper.
She brought the cheese puffs and candy he loved. She tuned his TV to Cardinal baseball. She pushed him in his wheelchair to therapy, to the dining area for meals and outside to enjoy the sky. She stayed a full week, then left FIL with a pledge to come back in July and help him to stay in his own house.
Marty kept her promise. She put her life — friends, family, home, volunteer commitments — on hold for over a month to help FIL try to re-establish independence in his home. She cooked and cleaned and kept FIL company. His house had not been so tidy, nor he so well cared for, since his wife died in 1990.
Marty’s husband, Wayne, the second caregiver in this story, drove from Florida to help out. Wayne cleaned up the yard, made plumbing and other repairs to FIL’s house and acted as chauffeur.
FIL broke out with shingles and became gravely ill. Marty and Wayne nursed him ’round the clock. In late July, they returned FIL to our care. Marty offered to come back in October, but father and daughter said their goodbyes, thinking that, with FIL so ill, this might be the last time they saw one another.
Wayne and Marty returned to Florida and celebrated Wayne’s 70th birthday. “On his birthday we talked about a 10-year plan,” Marty typed later in her journal, to make the best of every day.
A week later, Wayne had a scheduled, outpatient gall bladder surgery. After the procedure, he experienced severe pain, so they kept him overnight. The next day he was moved to the ICU.
Days stretched to a week as Wayne’s condition worsened: unresponsive, ventilator, bile leak, sedation.
Another week: surgery, feeding tube, infection, blood clot, encephalopathy.
Wayne was moved from the hospital to a nursing facility in another city, still sedated and still on a ventilator. Marty was now a commuter caregiver to her husband, traveling several times a week to be with him. “Each day it becomes more clear that my husband of 46 years will not be able to take care of himself.”
Weeks stretched into months: peritonitis, sepsis, kidney failure, bowel obstruction. “I continue to pray for the end of this nightmare,” Marty typed, “but cherish every single moment I have with my husband.
“Our resolve on Wayne’s 70th was that we would live our last years together realizing that every day of life was a gift to be enjoyed to the fullest,” she continued. “Today I have lost 61 of those precious days as Wayne does not know me.”
Ten days after writing those lines, Marty was hospitalized with severe stomach pain. She had emergency surgery the following day, was put on life support with multiple organ failure and — the next day — she died.
Marty and Wayne made sacrifices to be caregivers for FIL. Would they have done so had they known what their next several months would be like? Absolutely. When Wayne became ill, Marty spent every ounce of energy fighting for his care and recovery. Would she have done less had she known she would suddenly pass, before him? Absolutely not.
There’s more to the story.
FIL, age 97, recovered from shingles and is strong and healthy — not enough to live independently, but he’s anticipating reaching 100, “if I’m careful.”
Two weeks after Marty’s death, finally weaned off the ventilator but still mostly unresponsive, Wayne was moved to a rehab facility. By the next evening, an awakening had begun. Within a couple of days he was alert, aware, eating real food and talking on the phone. He is now back in his own home, working hard at therapy and regaining strength each day.
Wayne remembered nothing from the three months following his initial procedure and had to be told the sad news of his wife’s death. Marty had tremendous faith in Jesus Christ: There is comfort in knowing that Margaret Rose is “Home” this Christmas, with her long-missed mother and her heavenly Father.
I share this story not to make you cry over what is lost, but to help you realize what you have.
Wayne and Marty cherished the people in their lives, near and far away. Whether you are a caregiver or a care recipient, you have someone special in your life. Cherish that person. If you have lost a loved one, cherish your memories. If you have a saving faith, cherish your belief.
There is always, always, always something to be thankful for. Find it. Cherish it. And have a blessed Christmas.