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Another End of the Spectrum

My mother in law, Martha, who has Alzheimer’s disease, has been my main focus here; however, today I would like to talk about my foster mother who is 88 years old.  Her name is Jule, short for Julia, and I can still hear my foster dad say, “Now Jule” when they would disagree about something and he felt she had crossed the line.  I guess because this was such a rare event it made an impression on me. 

It just occurred to me you might be wondering how I ended up with foster parents.  Well, first let me say these two wonderful individuals were friends of my parents.   When I was 12 years old my mother died from a massive stroke and they immediately made arrangements to take me in due to my father’s chronic and poor health.  He died the following year with heart failure.  Other family members were not in a situation where they could care for me so my foster parents became Mom and Dad.  That has been many years ago and I continue to feel blessed today.

Now back to Jule.  She is amazing and I am serious when I say I need to call to schedule an appointment to see her because she is so busy.  Her week consists of 3 days doing water aerobics at the YMCA, volunteering at the hospital reception desk 4 days a week, as long as it does not snow too much.  Her sense of humor is definitely intact.  This year one day she called me to tell me how she and her car slid down the hill from the hospital to the eye doctors appointment she had that day, which happened to be at the bottom of the hill, and then she laughed – hard.  She continues playing cards with her club, going out to dinner and is ready whenever anyone says, “Let’s go”.  During the winter months I either take her bags of books or she goes to the library when the weather allows.  Her love of reading must have rubbed off on me.

I must tell you, this is a woman who has been a caregiver all of her life.  She had two older children of her own when she took me in, cared for a mentally disabled sister, an aging uncle and somewhat difficult aunt.  She worked part time doing everything from being a beautician to a receptionist at a real estate office to working in the kitchen at the school.  At different times, especially when my dad’s company, GE, went on strike she would work full time while he found other work so he did not have to cross the dangerous picket lines.  We never went hungry or without but certainly did not take extravagant vacations or have a lot of extras.  They made sure there was money put aside for us kids to further our education.  Jule has had her share of personal heart aches as well with her son falling ill with juvenile diabetes and subsequently dying from the disease at the age of 44 following a nasty divorce, the loss of a grandchild to leukemia, her son in law dying from kidney disease and eventually losing her husband to bone cancer.  Last year when she got pneumonia and came home on oxygen I called her to find that she was not wearing it and was mopping her kitchen floor.  She told me I was not to be mad at her because she was feeling just fine.  This is when I began thinking about a personal response system or some in- home companion care but she didn’t feel ready for it, yet.

She has been a rock and believes things happen for a reason; I must have gotten that from her as well.  Our entire family feels blessed that she remains in good health and wants to live independently.  The last time I visited was the first time I noticed a change.  Actually, she brought it up and said that many of her friends were dying.  I think the recent loss of her good friend Betty hit her hard because she told me she missed her terribly and that they “shared secrets”.  The normal spark had left her eyes and I felt a loss as well.  We all know the tough conversations about driving and living alone are coming but for the time being she is happy living in her own home and feel confident we know where to find the best options when the time is right for her to have some help.

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