Portrait of a Sole Caregiver
Lucy Peros | All Photos Courtesy Lucy Peros and ‘Ohana
Caregiving can be a tough job! According to statistics in the United States, 43.5 million caregivers are currently helping their loved ones. I was one of those statistics until my Mom, transitioned to her heavenly reward last September 8, 2021. I was her sole caregiver for a whole year. She was bed-ridden. I took care of her in my house with the assistance of Hospice Maui Staff.
Mom was a very independent woman. She lived in her own house in Haliimaile until she was 100 years old. She was able to take care of herself with no assistance, cooked for herself, able to take medication by herself and even took care of her flower and vegetable garden. She didn’t have Alzheimer and no dementia. She was amazing! Unfortunately, two weeks after her 100th birthday, beginning of Covid-19, Mom suffered a mild heart attack. Even though it was a mild heart attack, it really affected her physically. For her safety, I took her in to live with me.
It was a blessing in disguise I was able to take care of her at home and not put her at the care facilities especially in the midst of the pandemic where no one was allowed to visit them. Mom would have been devastated, feeling all alone and feeling abandoned. I am almost sure she wouldn’t have survived a year as she did. While at my house, her friends and our family members, especially her grandchildren and great grandchildren, were able to visit her which made her very happy. I was also able to cook the food she liked and enjoyed eating.
Mom needed 24/7 care. Hospice Maui provided all the necessary materials to keep her comfortable, e.g. hospital bed, bed upright tray, beddings, bed mats, diapers, under wears, toiletries and even an oxygen tank. A Hospice nurse came once week to check her vitals and they also came anytime whenever Mom needed their emergency care. The Hospice aides came three times a week to bathe her. A couple of volunteers came for two hours to keep Mom company, talk stories with her to relieve me, while I went out and did appointments as well as shopping for our basic necessities. It was also good for my own well being to go out during those two hours. Hospice Staff are a very compassionate group of people. I call them “Angels On Earth.”
Since Mom needed my attention 24/7, to keep me always aware of her needs anytime, I bought a baby monitor and placed it by her to help me see how she is. She can also speak on it to get my attention. I also hung a little cow bell by her bed railing which she can ring anytime she needed my attention. It was very effective because I could hear the bell ringing even when I was outside doing something else. The only problem was, sometimes she touched it by mistake and I would be running to check on her especially when it happened at night when I was sleeping. My sleep got interrupted and by the time I got back to bed, I wasn’t able to sleep for a length of time.
Mom was qualified to receive her lunch from Meals On Wheels from the Department of Aging (Kaunoa). It was such a nice service offered to the home bound.
Because Mom was bedridden, changing and cleaning her when the Hospice Staff were not around to help was very challenging for me to do by myself. She was not able to get up and use the commode. It’s a good thing Mom’s mind was sharp. She was able to let me know when she wanted to move her bowel. I developed a technique to help her by letting her lay down on her side while I use a chopstick to push her feces aside as it came out without touching her skin. Cleaning up was a cinch, no mess! Mom just laughed when I told her that I compare this technique as if I was assisting a woman giving birth. I was there to assist with the baby when it is being born. Whenever I am doing this with her, she always said to me, “Anakko (my daughter), you have already repaid everything I did for you when I took care of you when you were a baby.” Tia Walker, an American author who wrote the book, The Inspired Caregiver, said “To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honor.” Mom’s comment truly made me feel I received that highest honor! In addition, Tia wrote “Caregiving often calls us to lean into love we didn’t know possible.” How true it is!
Instead of me cheering her up, she was the one who cheered me up by unceasingly giving me positive strokes, appreciation every single day. She was always thanking God for blessing her a daughter. She was a very good patient. She was not demanding. She was always thinking of me, especially my well-being. She understood well that taking care of her was very challenging especially I was alone. Mom was a wise woman.
When I needed someone to keep Mom company and Hospice Staff was not available, I hired nurses from Hale Makua. These ladies were perfect to be with my Mom for several hours. Not only were they trained nurses caring for elderly but also able to communicate with Mom because they spoke Mom’s language, Ilokano. Mom enjoyed their company very much. I thank Marilou Bonilla and April Failano.
St. Joseph Church in Makawao honored Mom as their oldest surviving parishioner. They were planning to honor her with a mass and a reception. Unfortunately, it happened on the first day of lockdown with the COVID-19. It was canceled. Fr. Michael Tolentino (Pastor), Deacon Patrick Constantino and Arsie Anderson, however, came to my house to present her a Certificate of Recognition. Fr. Michael also prayed, blessed and anointed Mom.
The following tips were very helpful to me as a caregiver. Be prepared for change because their moods, attitude and personality changes over time. My Mom got so frustrated because she couldn’t do things she used to do. Ask for help when you need it. For me, I asked my friends, my relatives and church parishioners whenever I needed help. Maintain your physical and mental health. This is very important for caregivers so we can provide the highest quality of care to our loved ones. It is very important to foster solid relationships with health care providers. I was always in contact with the Hospice Staff whenever I had questions on Mom’s medication, special needs and when I see some changes on my Mom’s physical health. I also call Mom’s primary physician every so often, keeping him posted about Mom’s condition. My two siblings are living in Honolulu. So it was important to keep them posted about Mom’s condition and also air out my personal feelings, my frustration as a sole caregiver.
As a sole caregiver, I was everything to my Mom: her nurse, her cook, her psychologist, her social worker, her bather, her feeder, her dentures cleaner. The list is endless. Caregiver burnout, I certainly experienced it! My Mom could sense when I was cranky, she knew I was having Caregiving burnout. Mom was a wise woman. That’s when she gave me positive strokes. There was never a day she didn’t thank me for doing what I was doing for her. That’s how I survived physically, mentally and emotionally. My faith in God also helped me. I always remember what God said in scripture “Don’t be afraid, I am with you always.” Mom also believed in this too.
Since Mom was able to communicate with me, she was able to share with me the things she would like me to do when the good Lord was ready to take her. It was such a beautiful natural conversation between the two of us. She was able to tell me she wanted to be buried with my Dad. She wanted to wear a blue dress and a church veil. She told me she shouldn’t wear any jewelry. I followed everything she said. When the time came, funeral preparation was very easy to do.
Mom passed away on a very significant date, especially to us Catholics. She passed away peacefully on September 8, 2021, on our Blessed Mother Mary’s birthday. I would like to believe Mom went to attend Mama Mary’s birthday party in heaven. She was 101 years, one month, and one day old when she died. Her burial date was also significant. It was the Feast of the Angels.
I felt very fulfilled in taking care of my Mom singlehandedly during her last days of life on earth knowing I have done my best of duty and obligation as a daughter. I feel sorrow and joy can be side by side. I was sad Mom is no longer here physically but I felt joy in my heart she is now in heaven face to face with the Lord.
First Lady Rosalyn Carter, wife of the former U.S. President Jimmy Carter once said: “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.” Which one are you?
Lucy Peros is a retired schoolteacher, having taught at St. Anthony Grade School and Waihe’e Elementary School. Both of her parents, Elpidio Cachero Cabalo (a 1946 Sakada) and Alejandra Cabudoy Cabalo of Hali’imaile, worked for Maui Land and Pine Company. Lucy now enjoys retirement and has time to join other seniors in the Enhance Fitness Program under the Department of Aging three times a week. She also attends the line dancing class and other activities at Kaunoa and joins other Waihe’e School retirees when help is needed at the school. Lucy also devotes some of her time to activities at Christ The King Catholic Church. She enjoys writing and reading in her spare time.