Jane lived across the street from her grandchildren in California when her parents moved to Southern Utah for the weather. She told them she would not move to St. George. Her daughter worked at the same university as she did. Life was good.
She and her husband would come visit her parents frequently, and she realized that her mom and dad were beginning to need help. Her mom had always taken care of the family finances, and started showing some signs of dementia. Things were slipping. Jane had to teach her dad how to do the books, because her mom had always done them.
When the time was right, Jane retired from Cal Poly, and she and her husband and moved in with her parents. Easing the transition was the fact that Jane’s husband and her mother always hit it off. They had a great relationship, and sometimes Jane’s mom looked for him even if Jane was there. She was grateful to be in a position to move close to her parents. It was not practical for her other siblings. Jane’s siblings visited her parents when they were able, and she appreciated sharing that time with them as well. Her dad, a mechanical engineer, designed a casita to make room for Jane and her husband. He always drew a long arm sewing machine in it for future use, as well. The casita is now Jane’s sewing room.
Jane’s parents were the older couple you always see holding hands, being very affectionate. Toward the end they would argue about who would go first. At one point her dad said, “Hey Delt, Let’s go together.” “Okay,” she replied.
Her dad went first. His kidneys failed, and he decided not to do dialysis. He was in his eighties, and had a lot of pain in his back and legs. When his time was very close, he saw his sister who had already passed away. Jane said that happened with both of their parents, and that the knowledge that there is something beyond was the most interesting to her out of the whole experience.
She did not expect her mother to last long at all after her father was gone, but her mother lived for 15 more months.
One of the hardest things for Jane was watching her parents not be themselves. Her mom would come in and ask, “Where’s the baby?”
“The one we’ve been taking care of?”
Jane would say, “Oh, the baby’s sleeping.”
Sometimes Jane would play along, other times she wouldn’t. Sometimes her mom would realize she wasn’t in reality. Through everything, her mom was very sweet. She always said “thank you.”
At the end, her mom had a stroke, and was in the hospital on a Wednesday. Her mom seemed to be doing better, and on Thursday they brought her home. Jane fed her mom her favorite meal, which was a grilled cheese tuna sandwich. The next morning she and her husband were talking about putting her mom on hospice. When the nurse came for a regular visit, they found Jane’s mom on the floor. She had got herself up in the night and fallen. They did the hospice paperwork. Her mom stopped eating and passed away that Sunday. Jane felt good that she had fed her mom her favorite meal last, although she had not anticipated that.
Her mom wanted to be buried in Star Valley, Wyoming. After the funeral was over and the family left, she and her husband realized that they could do whatever they wanted. They went to Yellowstone. It took them a month or two to realize they didn’t have to check in with anyone anymore either.
Jane and her husband had moved in with her parents six years prior to her mother passing, and felt that she was necessary for the last few years especially.
To others in a caregiving situation, she advises that you take care of yourself like they tell you, and try to continue your life. She and her husband would get a respite care provider to allow them to go on little dates—out for lunch, a movie, or dinner. It was hard to recognize that they needed to take care of themselves, but it was important. Jane also said she would do hospice again in a heartbeat. They told her what was coming, helped her to see the signs.
Because of the time she spent with her parents, she learned things about them she never would have known. She and her sister were able to go over a lot of her father’s journals with him, and ask him questions about them. They also found old tax returns that gave them interesting information about jobs her father had that she never knew about.
Jane doesn’t feel like her parents are totally gone because she had all of that time with them. “I never really cried about it,” she said. Her mom’s dementia progressed so slowly, that she felt she lost her mother in pieces. “By the time she went, it was okay. I had done my grieving.” Jane had expected to have a meltdown, because she is usually great in a crisis and then falls apart afterward. But she didn’t. She compared the transition to having children grow up and move out of the house.
Since her parents’ passing, she has been doing a lot of quilting, in the room her dad designed for just that. “What I wanted was no regrets, and that’s how I feel,” she observed. “To be able to spend the time I wanted to with them was really good. To not begrudge it. That time is so short.” The private time she spent with them was so important to her. She knows it was well worth the personal effort to give them the comfort of being in their own home. Her mother always thanked her for what she did, and she replied, “It’s what you taught me.”
Thank you for living with no regrets, Jane. I honor your work.