Joyce Wise Dodd writes about being a four-time caregiver.
Former reporter, professor, administrator and … caregiver for several family members, most recently her husband Larry.
WHAT WORKED: Posting on Facebook, reaching out for help and resources.
WHAT I’D DO DIFFERENTLY: Understand that demanding hospice housing – where care is constant – is critical to the dying. Absolutely impossible for one person to handle 24-7.
THE UNEXPECTED SILVER LINING: “Knowing I was able to bring old friends back into our lives was just great.”
In late March, after a battery of tests, my husband, Larry, got the call. Dr. Clair Westin told him he had liver cancer and that he already had scheduled a lung scan for the next day. Bad news followed. It was a fast-moving cancer.
I had been the Advocate – and caregiver – for my brother, my father and my mother. This year it would be for my husband, Larry Dodd.
Pop quiz: What is an Advocate? What is a POA? A medical directive? Answer: Your Advocate (important enough to capitalize) is someone you probably should pick soon. Your Advocate one day might decide who your caregiver will be. Your Advocate needs a copy of your POA (power of attorney) and your medical directive. Your Advocate should know about your checkbooks, your bank accounts and where you keep your will. Your Advocate should have a set of your house keys and the second set of car keys. Your Advocate should know who your doctors are and be the first emergency contact.
And you might need to be an Advocate yourself.
REACHING OUT FOR FRIENDS
Once Larry received the awful news, I posted on Facebook, the place where all your friends know your name. I asked for prayers.
Neighbors and Facebook friends were fast to offer help. I called our St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and asked Father Wallace Adams-Riley to put Larry on the prayer list. Valorie Watkins, a student intern when Larry was news director at WRVA radio, came to visit with Larry. He had wondered about her for decades.
Larry mostly needed to lie down now. Day by day, he had lost the desire for food and drink. The end was nearer than anyone predicted. The doctor quickly set us up with a hospice group. The representative came by that afternoon. He wanted the certified POA and the medical directive. Copies would be made and the hospice workers would be scheduled to start before the end of that day. Larry’s medicine was switched to morphine and Ativan. The pain of metastatic cancer tortured him.
I started hearing from Larry’s friends from the old, great WRVA radio, where he was famous from his “Open for Opinion” talk show. My Facebook page was filled with prayers and memorable stories of Larry. Many more began coming in from former co-workers at the Department of Transportation, where he had been heralded as the Voice of VDOT.
REACHING OUT FOR HELP
Father Wallace was in constant touch. When it was absolutely necessary for me to go to an appointment or run an errand, I would call on folks such as KT, who would take time off from work to come sit with him. Larry had always loved KT. They had worked together.
I was in charge of a new whirlwind world of angst and next steps.
Easter Sunday arrived and I was on schedule for my lay ministry at St. Paul’s. Larry wanted me to go on ahead. But I would not agree until his niece, Nancy Kay Vess, arrived at the house early that morning to spend the day with him. He was able to talk about the family with her. As the hours passed, he spoke more of his Daddy, who had died at 80. Larry himself had turned 80 in March. He was feeling a spiritual, cosmic connection. Larry had become a member of St. Paul’s at Pentecost in 2014, growing ever more firm in his faith.
NEEDING MORE HELP – NOW!
I could communicate but not comprehend: Larry really was dying. Friends and altar guild members were coming by to visit, but I did not know what to say. Larry did not want to see people now.
During the second night of home hospice, I realized that I was no longer capable of handling this situation alone. I could not move him when he needed help.
I called hospice and turned into a fiery Advocate. “Come now!” I demanded. “We need to get him into a hospice unit.” I was told that might take a couple of days. “No,” I said. “It has to be right now!”
Larry was taken to a hospice unit the next day. St. Paul’s mission priest, Melanie Mullen, arrived in time to give us Holy Communion and administered to Larry the Episcopal litany for the time of death.
At 6:27 p.m., on April 11, 2015, Larry saw the face of God. I had held his hand all day. Niece Nancy Kay had held his other hand. It was finished. Word of Larry’s death went out and the love of our family and friends poured in.
IT CAN’T BE DONE ALONE
The Advocate Caregiver can survive only with the hands and hearts and great good will of the people who will reach out and follow through with real help. To call caregiving Advocacy tough duty is a mad understatement.
In the fury of caregiving and the days of grief and responsibility that follow, the Advocate-in-charge must define precious moments in time – to knit up her own raveled sleeve of care.
Joyce Wise Dodd is a former reporter for WRVA Radio, professor and administrator at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Mass Communications, and civil liberties teacher at the Helzer Honors College at Appalachian State University. While caregiving for other family members, she taught in the College for Older Adults at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center..