Often, when we think of caretaking, we think about our relatives. However, sometimes caretaking means taking care of neighbors and friends. What’s that like? My friend, Anna, has written a special column about building a relationship with her neighbor, Lorraine, and then having to step into the caretaking role when Lorraine developed Alzheimer’s Disease.
I love the saying, “You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your relatives.”
Ten years ago, I was blessed with the best neighbor, friend and motivator a girl could ever find. She lived right behind our home. All her life she cared for animals when friends left on trips. She was a life-long lover of four-legged critters. My chocolate lab connected with her immediately.
Even though our age gap was rather large, I felt this 87-year-old woman could teach me so much. Our interests were so similar we decided that we were really sisters and had been separated at birth. She was the kind of person who thrived on happiness. When I fell into a terrible slump a few years ago, she was the person who helped me realize that life is so precious and every new day brings hope. She was the reason I got out of bed, stopped feeling sorry for myself and lived life to the fullest.
About a year ago, Lorraine was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In her case, the advance of this terrible disease was rapid. Within days, she went from forgetting where she left her wallet to not knowing her friends.
I became the person in her life who made decisions for her. Who would I hire to be with her 24-7? Would I be the one who now needed to pay her bills? The decisions that needed to be made seemed endless, but I knew I was the one who had to make them. I knew her the best. She trusted me and shared secrets of her life she had not shared with anyone. I knew her likes, her dislikes, her favorite colors and foods and TV shows.
Lorraine never had children. A few scattered relatives appeared to be interested in her decline, but probably not for the right reasons. The ten years we shared and the love we felt for each other made me the special person who would make decisions in her best interest until the end.
That last night she spent on earth was one of the saddest times in my life. I stayed with her until the end, kissing her head and holding her hand. I’m not sure she knew that any of us were present. What I do know is that during those last moments, I celebrated the fact that I had been blessed with a friend who fit the description of an angel.
Published On: August 31, 2006