As we are staring at Thanksgiving eve, I hope you will pardon me as I take this blog in a more personal direction.
We lost my mother-in-law, Marie Wilson, two weeks ago as she ended her earthly journey and crossed the bridge into the eternal. She died peacefully in her sleep, in her bed, in her assisted living apartment at Well•Spring, A Life Plan Community, where she had been a resident for the past three years. Anne’s mother had been a big part of our lives, especially over the last eight years as Anne served as her primary caregiver. So the shock of a death in the night stung.
But after two weeks, I think I can accurately reflect on what it means to receive the blessings of someone’s presence, opportunity and loving caregivers.
Anne’s Mom was a wonderful lady who often said I was her “favorite son-in-law,” and while I acknowledged her compliment I also reminded her (although she knew) that I was her only son-in-law (Anne has two older brothers). She loved her family and raised a beautiful, responsible, patient and loving daughter in my wife, Anne. Marie’s presence in her life will never be replaced, but Marie provided many blessings to Anne, our children and me over the years – and to others throughout her 87 years.
An educator by profession, Marie touched countless lives.
In 2014, Anne was close to her wit’s end trying to care for her parents from afar. They resided in Mount Airy, N.C. Anne’s father had suffered a stroke three years earlier. With Anne’s help, Marie – despite her own aliments – maintained a semblance of independence at home. I had been trying for some time to convince my in-laws to move to a retirement community, but alas now their physical health precluded any chance of them being able to qualify for independent living.
And then, just at our moment of crisis, the grace of opportunity was bestowed upon our family. Alan Tutterow, whom we had just named executive director of our flagship life plan community, called to let Anne know that Well•Spring could accept her parents into assisted living. (Ultimately, Anne’s dad would move to skilled care). As fate would have it, the call coincided with Marie’s hospitalization, most likely resulting from her caregiver role. So with little resistance from Anne’s parents, their Well•Spring experience began.
Now I know there had to be plenty of staff apprehension over caring for the CEO’s mother-in-law, not to mention the CEO’s wife, and at first I might have even discounted the love and care the Well•Spring staff provided Marie due to my position.
But that quickly changed.
When Marie first arrived in assisted living, and Anne’s Dad was placed in skilled care, Marie faithfully visited him every night just after dinner. Soon, though, her ability to ambulate to his room in skilled care declined, and she found herself needing a wheelchair. Staff jumped into action without hesitation to make sure Marie saw her husband and continued, at least passively, in her caregiver role. With the staff’s help, she visited every night until her death.
Then there was the time, due to a temporary chemical imbalance, when Marie had an episode of psychosis. This was difficult for family and staff alike, as this sweet woman temporarily lost touch with reality. During a time when others may have wanted to close the door and leave the room, the care and compassion the team displayed was simply amazing and heartfelt.
And then there was her death. The night shift discovered her on final rounds and stayed until Anne arrived shortly after daybreak. Their embrace as we arrived, their tears, their hugs and their leading of the processional as we departed with Marie for the last time still brings me to tears.
The blessing of loving caregivers cannot be overstated.
So on this Thanksgiving, and on behalf of a grateful family, we are so very thankful for Marie’s presence, for the opportunity to be at a community like Well•Spring and for the staff who surrounded her – and us – with love, compassion and care.
Happy Thanksgiving for these and countless other blessings.