Caregiving comes full circle - Cheri and Cay's story

Life has a peculiar way of taking you by surprise. Then it sets you on a course—often it’s not the one you would have asked for. When those unfathomable and sometimes tragic events enter your world, all you can do is try to embrace a positive attitude in life—in hopes that everything will be ok. Maybe that’s life’s way of reminding us—we’re not in the driver’s seat.

I learned that firsthand in Spring 2009 when my son, Thomas, sustained a brain injury from an accident. At the time, he was a young, vibrant semi-pro soccer player. And his whole future was right in front of him. Around that same time, my now 85-year-old mom, Cay, started showing signs of dementia.

Between my son’s accident and my mom’s declining health—it threw me into caregiver role without much warning. My son wound up in a nursing home for about three years. Eventually, Thomas was diagnosed with a bacterial infection known as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).[1] Sadly, the infection claimed my son’s life on September 14, 2012.

Needless to say, it was a dark time in my family’s life. It’s still hard to believe he’s gone—because it was so sudden and unexpected. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Thomas.

While Thomas was in the nursing home, mom’s dementia continued to progress. To see Thomas confined to his wheelchair and bed was too much—for both of us. Ultimately, I think the stress of my son’s condition, plus its impact on me was too much for mom to bear—her symptoms grew worse each day.

Eventually mom was diagnosed with full blown Alzheimer’s.

At this point, my husband Jim and I decided to move mom into our home. My brother Chris lived nearby and he agreed to care for mom if we could not. We knew we needed my brother’s support because my husband needed medical care that required travel.

With caregiving, anything can happen, and usually does. All caregivers know this. At some point, my mom fell and broke her leg. And once again, we were thrust into the hospital setting for mom’s surgery. Then she ended up in a nursing home for one month 11 days—for rehab only.

While mom was in rehab in the nursing home, we saw changes in her personality. And it became more noticeable as the days wore on. The stress of living away from the familiar surroundings of home was taking a toll on mom. She no longer recognized my brother or me. The Alzheimer’s was taking mom further down its path of mental destruction.

We knew we needed to get mom home right away—to slow down the disease. Her homecoming seemed to help with her confusion to some extent—but we realize this is a progressive disease.

As of today, mom still doesn’t talk in full sentences, but occasionally, when she’s perusing through magazines, from out of nowhere, I might hear the magical words, “I want to buy that necklace.” In those rare occasions when I hear mom speak like that—it warms my heart and makes me smile.

To know mom’s personality, she is the sweetest thing with a gentle soul. I feel blessed because her personality makes caregiving a little easier—something that gives me gratitude.

To see her, you’d never guess this docile woman achieved such an accomplished career. She secured plenty of titles—like First Female Building Contractor—an accolade given to her by Brevard County Florida officials. She also taught realtor classes at a community college and expressed herself artistically with both oil paintings and doll making. She even taught painting classes.

As for mom’s current care, I’m adamant about her well-being and personal hygiene. That’s one reason why I use Stryker's products on her. I’m determined to keep her clean and dry when she has an incontinent episode. So I use Comfort Shield Barrier Cream Cloths.

Caring for mom is the least I can do for the person who has been there for me all these years. I feel so grateful to have her—especially given the tragic life events with my son. When I lost my son, caregiving helped me through the grief process. Being my mom’s caregiver gave me purpose and focus, something that allowed me to reflect on life with more acceptance and courage. It allowed me a chance to step through the pain and manage to keep going—because mom was right there with me. Although I was and still am my mom’s caregiver—she is just as much mine too.

In loving memory of my son Thomas.


No individuals or organizations were compensated by Sage or Stryker for contributing to this article.