When my father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer my family had no idea what lie ahead for all of us. As the disease and his illness rapidly progressed the entire family dealt with a wild range of emotions and struggled to deal with the new challenges facing us. Dad, more than any of us, exhibited grace, strength, and courage. And it was Dad, along with our angels — his home health aides and nurses — who ultimately supported each of us and guided us.
We were blessed (truly) to have my cousin nearby — a registered nurse and owner of a home health agency. The local hospice provided additional support. The home health aides came first for weekly visits and then more frequently. These home health aides were from the local community — that meant there were lots of connections they could make with my parents. They knew the local grocery store and coffee shop, one attended the same church as my parents, another’s children attended the same schools we did as children.
In no time at all, the home health aides became part of the fabric of our family. Their presence was a comfort. Not only did they remind Mum when and how Dad needed his meds, but they would take the time between Dad’s personal care for a cup of tea. They listened to our stories. They shared theirs.
I lived an hour and a half away from my parents and had a full-time job and a young son experiencing medical issues of his own at the time. Most weekends I would pack my overnight bag and my knitting, kiss my son and husband goodbye and start the drive south.
When I arrived at my parents’ house I’d hear from Mum about the home health aide who had been there that day. She may have changed the bed linens on the medical bed now set-up in the living room or helped Dad shave, or helped Mum read the instructions on the new medication that were written in tiny print.
Dad, for his part, seemed pleased that Mum had someone else in the house to chat with.
In any case on those days when I arrived — usually, after the home health aide had left — a calm seemed to have settled on the household and my parents. I’d sit with Dad and knit. Sometimes he told me how he was feeling. Sometimes not. We talked about politics. Watched TV. Played Yahtzee. Sorted photographs. Or, often, we just sat quietly.
But here’s the thing. The entire household was visibly calmer when a home health aide had been there. And that gave our family just a wee bit of space to listen and hear each other and make our way through the long goodbye. And that’s why I call them our angels.
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