I guess the most appropriate title for the jobs I have done in recent years is Home Healthcare Worker. That seems a little too proper for me though, as I am not formerly trained in this field. I fell into these jobs just by being at the right place at the right time someone was in need. And there seems to be an overwhelming need for people just like me!
My first “little lady”, as I like to call them, was Lucile. Lucy was in her early 90s and had Alzheimer’s in its later stages. Being in the situation where I not only needed a job but also a place to live, I had agreed to move into Lucile’s home to offer 24/7 care.
Lucile’s well-being had been in the hands of her two loving nieces for years. They took excellent care of their aunt! There was nothing that Lucy needed or wanted that she didn’t get. They adored her immensely. I was instantly welcomed into the family. I never felt like just an employee. They took good care of me too. They made sure I was well paid and had a comfortable place to live. They provided everything and more that I needed to care for their beloved aunt.
What a hoot Lucile was! She had story after story of her very colorful life to share with me and anyone else who was genuinely interested. And she always could tell who was genuine and who was not. She was an accomplished artist, and her home was sprinkled with her paintings. She could tell you a story for each one. She was one smart cookie, and I loved being around her.
For the majority, Lucile had no concept of place or time. What year, month, day, hour, all changed on the flip of a dime for her. When I realized this, I began to ask her each morning how old she was that day. Some days it would be 42, some 37, and others 16. The days she was 16, she also took on the personality of 16. She would ask me if she had overslept and was going to be late for school. I would assure her that she had the day off and could enjoy it in any way she pleased. This made her incredibly happy, as it would any kid. I would usually have a more difficult time keeping up with Lucile on her teenage days. She not only thought she was young but expected her body to react as such. This meant her trying to get out of bed without assistance. And that usually ended with a fall. Her legs were extraordinarily strong, but her brain could not convince them to react the way they should.
Lucy never learned my name. Her family and friends would tell her I was JoAnn. She would agree in the moment but refer to me later as “the woman who lives here”. But whenever she needed me, she would call out her best friend’s name, which was Kathy.
I would be stirred from a deep sleep early each morning to the sound of Lucy screaming, “Kathy, I’m awake!”. It was a rough way to wake up at 6 a.m. but it sure gives me a laugh now. It never bothered me that Lucile couldn’t learn my name. I knew she cared for and appreciated me. She told me so, and I knew it was heartfelt. Anyway, she thought I was her best friend, and that was an honor.
There were fleeting moments when Lucile would know exactly how old she was, and where her life was headed. She would become very solemn. Depressed actually. Things that she had spent years enjoying, she no longer wanted to partake. Her family had shared that Lucile enjoyed sitting in the front room of her home, where the front wall was all glass. She lived on a mountain top, and her view was beautiful. She would watch the many different birds fly all around her collection of bird feeders. Feeders, which I promptly kept filled in hopes to entertain Lucy.
But much to her family’s disappointment, and mine, she no longer wanted to sit in the front room. We even had a hospital bed delivered and placed in her sunroom facing the view. I would talk her into it, get her wheeled in there, and she would quickly depress. It was like watching a light slowly growing dim. I believe she remembered that room better than any other. It had been her favorite room. A place she admired the beautiful view, and the woods where she had taken long daily walks for years. Now it was a bold reminder of the things she could no longer do. It reminded her she was 90 years old. Sadly, she would always ask to go back to her bedroom.
I spent almost every 24-hour period with Lucy for around 4 months. I wonder how many years of friendship that would measure out to be. I felt as though Lucile was my friend, and I felt blessed and honored to have had the opportunity to share the last months of her life on earth. It was hard, for her, and for me. I guess the end of a life always is, no matter what the circumstances. You can never be fully prepared. It is impossible. But for the last months of her life, I hope that I made some sort of positive difference in Lucy’s world. We laughed a lot, the two of us alone in that big house on the hill. And we struggled on days that were difficult for obvious reasons. But I would not have changed a thing. Lucile taught me important lessons about life that I will hold dear forever. Lessons that only being in her presence could I have learned. What an amazing human being she was. Love and miss you Lucy. Until we meet again…. JoAnn