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From Child to Caregiver

February 1, 2019 officially set my life on a new path, my mom’s lung cancer was confirmed. I immediately knew she wouldn’t be able to continue being dad’s caregiver to the extent she had been so I started looking at assisted living places close to me. I narrowed it down to 4 after researching and visiting and speaking with residents. Then I approached mom who was really less than receptive. What was crazy though is mom and dad had paid for long term care insurance to cover just this type of need. Mentioning it in passing to dad was even more pointless at that time he was totally against it.

We spent several months of trips to and from Austin Cancer Center for mom’s chemo followed by lunch out and grocery shopping all with dad tagging along quiet as usual. I think the only time I didn't make the trip with them was when I was in London for vacation that was planned before we knew of her diagnosis.

Mom was a fighter and didn't want to know how long the doctor gave her but as time went on, her blood counts and other levels kept getting worse and then Sunday, September 30th as I’m sitting in my living room working on getting things ready to have a garage sale the next week I got a phone call from her saying she fell and needed me to come help her. I live an hour away so I got cleaned up and got out there to help.

I got out to my mom & dad's house a little over an hour after I got the call from my mom that she fell and needed help. I found her on the floor of her bedroom and helped her from the floor to the bed. She told me she had been on the floor since about midnight when she got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Needless to say I fussed at her for not calling 911 or me sooner! After getting her settled in I found the walker that used to belong to my grandmother in the garage and cleaned it off and brought it in to her room. We talked about her using it when she needed to get up and go to the bathroom and move around.

My dad and I then made a quick trip to the local grocery store for a few things they needed and also picked up some burgers at the local drive thru for lunch. We picked up mom a milkshake to make sure she had something even though she said she wasn't hungry. After everything was put away and lunch was over I sat down and talked with mom about assisted living. She knew the time had come that she couldn't take care of herself and dad on her own any longer and agreed that it was time for them to go into assisted living. We agreed that we would go from her chemo appointment on Tuesday, October 1st to the place that I had decided was the one that I wanted the two of them to go into together. I made sure she was comfortable told her that if she fell again the first call needed to be to 911 since that was one of the reasons they are there, and then to call me. We said our goodbyes and dad walked me to my car and I headed home.

I didn't talk to mom or dad on Monday, September 30th but that wasn't really out of the ordinary, especially since I knew I would be out to pick them up the morning of Tuesday, October 1st to take mom in for a shot and then take them back home.

The morning of October 1st I got up, got ready like I normally would and then left my house around 6:30-6:45 or so. I can't explain it but I knew something wasn't right, I knew in my heart and soul that there was something wrong and I was dreading getting out there. I stopped for gas, I went through the Starbucks drive thru all in a subconscious effort to avoid what I knew in my heart I would find.

I arrived at their house to find the garage door wide open so I went in that way but all the lights were off in the house. I went back to my mom's room and found her laying on the floor, I knelt down next to her and called out "mom...mother" and touched her arm which was still warm and there was no response. I felt for a pulse and there was none so I immediately left the room and called 911. My dad woke up when he heard me talking on the phone and I didn't want him to see her like that so when he asked what was going on I told him to just go back to bed and thankfully he did. The 911 dispatcher wanted me to perform CPR and I couldn't do it. I told her that my mom was gone and I couldn't, if I had thought about it I would have told her that she had a DNR and I was following her wishes but I didn't think of that at the time. She asked if there was anyone else in the home that could perform CPR and I told her no. The paramedics arrived shortly after I called (their station is less than 2 miles away) and after letting them in and showing them where my mom was I had the hard task of telling my dad she was gone.

He was laying in bed and I went in, closed the door behind me and crawled up on the bed next to him and told him she was gone. We both cried a little but I had to get up and go out to talk with the paramedics. They had covered her body with a blanket and shut the bedroom door so my dad wouldn't see her as he walked by. The police also had to come since it was an unattended death and after I spoke with them and showed them where she was, dad had come out and I got him settled at the dining room table as we spoke with the paramedics a little more to give them info about mom. I then stepped away to go get dad's hearing aids from his bathroom (slightly funny story to follow) and on the way back the detective stopped me and I asked if he could wait one moment while I gave my dad his hearing aids which I then put on the table in front of him as he sat with two paramedics. I then went back to the detective who asked if I could see if my mom's doctor would sign off on the death certificate so they didn't have to wait for the medical examiner and also which funeral home should be called and they would do that for me.

Somewhere during all this I managed to take a moment to call my husband, Kevin, at work and he immediately left and headed out there. My oldest daughter, Megan, was my next call and at first she just thought when I said Grandma is gone that she had driven off somewhere but then she realized what I meant and immediately headed out as well. I wasn't sure about calling my other daughter, Kelsie (Megan's twin), at that time of day only because she is a teacher and I didn't want to disrupt her class, but Megan made that call for me. When I decided to call her she was already headed to her house to pack a bag, grab her daughter from daycare and come down. My next call was to my dad's brother, Leland who passed the word on to their siblings. I thought I had the right number for my mother's brother, Brien, but my dyslexia was getting the best of me when I entered it into my phone and we couldn't find mom's phone when I needed it so I reached out to my cousin Brenda and was able to then contact Brien and let him know. This was a planned day off of work for me but I took a few minutes and called our chief of staff and let her know what was going on. We had a very important meeting scheduled for the next day and I was the only one from our department that was physically in our office at that time and I told her that I would be there and that I only ask that nothing be said until after the meeting. She told me I didn't need to do that but I reassured her that I would be okay and that I felt it was important that I be there.

Now, the slightly funny story about the hearing aids. After I spoke with the detective and called my mom's doctor to first off inform them of her passing and second ask if he would sign off on the death certificate (he did) one of the paramedics came up to me before I got back to my dad at the dining room table and let me know that my dad had swallowed his hearing aids. He must have thought they were his meds! Why the paramedics didn't stop him is beyond me but they must have passed through his system because a while later we had x-rays done just to check and all was okay!

I don't recall the exact time but at some point two gentlemen from Beck Funeral Home arrived to pick up mom. They were the epitome of respectful and kind and let dad say his goodbyes before they left with her.

Then it hit me, I had gone from the only child to the caregiver.

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