I met with a family in another town. They had called my office and needed to see me. They were obviously in great distress. We met in one of our satellite offices.
Dad had dementia. Mom had been trying to keep him home. The children finally intervened, letting Mom know that she could not continue, that she herself was at risk. It is a common scenario.
In our discussions with the children and Mom, I asked them about Dad. They said, “We’ve already told you about his health.” I said, “No, I want to know about him.” For the next 15 minutes they told me about him.
He was an inventor. He was an entrepreneur. They all admired him. They were proud of him. They were proud to be his children and his spouse. While they had been crying when they came into the office, or at least sad, they beamed and their smiles got bigger as they told of Dad.
I took care of my grandmother as her grandson (versus as a lawyer). For six years, during that time period, she lived alone in Fort Worth, Texas. All of her other immediate family had passed away including all her siblings, her husband, all three children (including my mother, her daughter). Much of the “caregiving” that was being done was done by strangers – Meals On Wheels, Home Health, Hospice or acquaintances coming by. A lot of them did not know her at all or knew her very little.
Eventually I moved her from Fort Worth to Hays. Our hand was forced to put her into assisted living.
One of the things that became important to me was for the people looking after my grandmother to know who she was. I wanted them to know that she was a mother of three.
I wanted them to know that she had an extraordinary life, both good and bad. She was married at 17. A year later, her father was murdered by a stranger and she took in her mother for the remainder of her mother’s lifetime. She had three children, two of which were hemophiliacs and died related to that disease. She nursed my grandfather back to health when he broke his neck in a train accident and was given the diagnosis that he would forever be paralyzed (he wasn’t). When my grandfather had a stroke that completely paralyzed the side of his body, she immediately took him home and nursed him back to health over a year. She took care of my sister and I while my folks went through a rough patch.
And yet, she was the most optimistic, friendly, gentle woman that I have ever met. I never once heard her criticize any other person. The doors to her home were always open.
When I moved her to Kansas, she went to a new doctor. The new doctor called her “Mrs. Wafer”. He actually asked her about her history and she told him. I filled in a lot of the details. I wanted him to know this was a special person. And he did.
At the assisted living facility, they all knew about my grandmother. One nurse described her as a true “gentlewoman.”
It is really important that when you are overseeing someone’s care, the others who are helping you know about the person you are caring for. They are not just another number; they are not just another patient; they are not just another resident. Your loved one is an important person.
I am going to go back to my story from the beginning. This man was obviously a special person to his family. In my notes of our meeting, I wrote all of that information down. I want the members of my firm who are working with this family to know who he is and what he is about. Obviously he has dementia now and cannot share that information with us, but his family can.
We want the families that we work with to be cared for in the same way that I wanted my grandmother to be cared for.
Sometimes being a caregiver can be overwhelming. Sometimes you need to step back and think about the individual. Think about the lifetime of accomplishments and how much he or she has meant to others during that time. That person is special.
Randy Clinkscales founded Clinkscales Elder Law Practice in 1985.