Notes from Jen – Love and Caregiving

John and Terry enjoying the Santa Fe Plaza

Notes from Jen

Love and Caregiving

I learned many things from my mother, Terry, including how to be a fierce advocate for those in need of medical care. Before she had children, my mom was a nurse. Her specialty and passion was caring for premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Her purpose was giving those sweet babies the absolute best care to increase their chances of survival and to send them home with their parents.

Caring for premature babies during the early seventies required courage and grit. Survival among infants weighing less than 1,000 grams at birth went from less than 10 percent in the sixties, before assisted ventilation and the establishment of the NICU, to approximately 35 percent in the mid-seventies. Improvements in prenatal care was another important development during this time. My mom often told me stories about how she never wanted to give up on those babies. When they drifted to sleep in her arms during a feeding, she would wake them up by rubbing their feet to make sure they ate enough formula per hour. My mom explained the importance of checking their temperature and their ventilators regularly to make sure they weren’t laboring too much and were as comfortable as possible. There was no detail that went unnoticed.

By age 23, my mom was the head nurse of the NICU and the hospital was providing her with career growth opportunities. But like many women of the time, she decided after having my older sister to become a stay-at-home mom. A couple of years later, I joined the family and her intentions of going back to the NICU faded as life became more complicated.

My dad, John, owned a small business and needed reliable administrative support, so my mom went back to work to support the family business. While her contributions allowed the business to grow and prosper, it also gave her flexibility so she could pick us kids up from school and take us to activities. Now, as a parent myself, I see the value of having flexibility—especially with young children.

My mom (center) was featured in the Fresno Bee in 1973

My mom (center) was featured in the Fresno Bee in 1973

By the time I was eight, my maternal grandmother, Beverly, was diagnosed with Parkinsons. My mom’s nursing skills and passion came roaring back helping her parents with navigating the healthcare system, doing medical research, and making home improvements, so Beverly could live comfortably. By the time I was in middle school, my grandparents had in-home care. By the time I was in high school, my grandmother was in an assisted living facility. By the time I was a senior in high school, my grandmother had passed away. Parkinsons is a horrible disease, but I witnessed the care my mother gave to her mother, which is the most powerful demonstration of love and respect.

Within the next decade, my father, John, was hospitalized with viral meningitis and consequently had encephalitis. Again, my mom turned nurse and cared for my father as he recovered. Then her father, Doyle, started showing signs of dementia, which required her attention. As his dementia grew worse, my mom was determined to support his independence for as long as possible. Eventually, it was not safe for my grandfather to live alone, and he moved into a memory care unit where he kept everyone entertained with the same joke every ten minutes or so. She visited and advocated for him until the end.

As she navigated care and support for my grandfather, my dad had a massive stroke. His prognosis was not good. The doctors told us that he would never walk or talk again. He may not survive. I remember my mom whispering under her breath, “That’s what they would say about the babies.”

Almost 20 years later, my dad is alive. He walks, talks, goes to the gym, plays with his grandchildren, travels, cooks and even helps out with the laundry. Yes, he is disabled, but his life has so much value. I truly believe that he is alive today because of the power of his caregiver: my mom.

Jen's favorite photograph of her mother

Jen’s favorite photograph of her mother

While my mom was a fierce advocate and caregiver for her own mother, father, and husband, stress and exhaustion comes with being a caregiver, and it takes a toll. It is critical to provide respite and selfcare opportunities to caregivers. My mom is tired, and I see the years of worry in her eyes. I also see that my time to help is here. I’ve been blessed to have my mom as a role model, and I hope I am just as tenacious of a caregiver as her.

Many New Mexicans are family caregivers. There is what is called the “traditional sandwich generation,” which includes those sandwiched between aging parents who need care or help and their own children. This is now me! Then there is the “club sandwich generation,” which includes those in their forties, fifties or sixties sandwiched between aging parents, adult children, and grandchildren, or those in their twenties, thirties and forties, with young children, aging parents, and grandparents. My mom survived the club sandwich.

Rosalyn Carter

“There are only four kinds of people in the world. Those who have been caregivers. Those who are currently caregivers. Those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver.”

This holiday season, consider giving the gift of respite for a family caregiver. It could be as simple as providing companionship by reading a book or doing a puzzle with a family member in need. You may want to visit a senior center and volunteer. You may want to train your dog to become a certified therapy dog and do regular visits to an assisted living facility. You may decide to volunteer as an Ombudsman and advocate for residents in nursing facilities. The gift of our time is precious, as are our elders.

While life will always throw us curve balls, Tumbleweeds will strive to provide families with the resources and, hopefully, the inspiration to make it through the tough times and ultimately thrive. We know how important it is to have the best resources at your fingertips. Every family goes through different phases and no one journey is the same, but there are similarities and ways our community can come together.

Accompanied by my niece and nephew, this was mom_s last visit with her dad before he past away in 2015

Accompanied by my niece and nephew, this was mom’s last visit with her dad before he passed away in 2015.

The Tumbleweeds winter issue features tips for blended families, the realities of grandparents raising grandchildren, and the beautiful holiday traditions around New Mexico. It also includes our annual School Guide and Academic Support Directory to help families make informed decisions about their children’s education. A special thank you to our contributors for sharing their stories with our readers, and to our advertisers who make Tumbleweeds possible. We hope Tumbleweeds will continue to be your go to family resource for years to come.

Cordially,

Jen

P.S. Love you, Mom.

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