An anniversary can be a time of happy celebration, but it can also be a reminder of sorrowful events that stir all kinds of emotions, such as the loss of a loved one or a divorce. The latter can nudge to the surface memories, both happy and sad, regrets, and immense grief.

I find myself sitting with the weight of a semi truck on my heart, as I remember five years ago when I lost my beautiful mother. It’s especially raw writing this sandwiched between the anniversary of her death and Mother’s Day. I’m also reminded because a dear friend is going through difficult care issues with her own mom, which is the impetus for this article.

If you have ever been the caregiver for someone with a terminal illness, you know first-hand the heavy burden that’s been placed on you. You also know the honor of helping someone through this phase of life. I have been bestowed this honor twice in my lifetime, having had two parents who suffered terminal illnesses much, much too young.

Maybe you know this feeling too … the feeling of being paralyzed not knowing which way to turn to get help. Dealing with all the health issues alone can be overwhelming, not to mention the financial and day-to-day decisions that must be made. I cannot speak highly enough about two organizations: Hospice and Share The Care.

Most people are familiar with hospice. According to Wikipedia, hospice care is a type and philosophy of care that focuses on the palliation (i.e., not curative) of a chronically ill, terminally ill, or seriously ill patient’s pain and symptoms, and attends to their emotional and spiritual needs. You may know that hospice centers and in-home hospice care are available to those who have a limited life expectancy.

Spaced fifteen years apart, each of my parents were patients in the hospice care system, one using in-home hospice, and the other a hospice-sanctioned facility. The end-of-life care that each received included medications, nursing, massage, and pastoral visits.

While hospice was a blessing, it did not address the needs I had as a caregiver. No one could help relieve the heavy weight that I was carrying, trying to hold down a job, care for young children, help with the too numerous to mention medical needs of my parent, and basically keep my head above water. I felt as though I was drowning in addition to the enormous grief that is inevitable when your parent slowly drifts away.

In Walked Share The Care

Share The Care (STC) is an organization whose mission is, “to improve the quality of life for anyone who needs support and to reduce the stress, depression, isolation and economic hardship of their caregivers.”

Share The Care was developed by two lifelong friends—Sheila Warnock and Cappy Capossela—who documented a comprehensive caregiving model that they developed for a mutual friend who had bone cancer. Later they wrote a book under the same title. Coincidentally, the system was put to use by one of the authors when both she and her father were diagnosed simultaneously with malignant brain tumors.

The concept of Share The Care is to bring together a team of willing and concerned participants with the common goal to help tend to the needs of a critically ill person and his or her family.

My mom’s best friend, Carol, introduced me to STC, who thankfully recognized a mounting commitment of doctor visits for my mom. My brother and I were the only two of four children living locally and we simply could not keep up with the growing list of my mom’s needs. Torn between young families and work, we struggled to keep everything afloat, while attending to the care my mom desperately needed.

Carol was my mom’s neighbor and attended the same church. She knew many caring friends who were eager to help. She organized the first “Team Susan” meeting, which was attended by not only 20 of my mom’s friends—fellow church-goers, neighbors, former co-workers, long-time friends—but also friends of my brother and me who could lend a hand in ways big and small.

That first meeting led to weekly team captains who organized rides to various doctors, meal planning, and people who simply came to visit with my mom. In the beginning, I think my mom was captain much of the time. She genuinely cherished the time she was able to spend with friends from throughout her life, whether it was visiting during a car ride, over dinner, or watching “Dancing with the Stars.” The point being that she had a contact to whom she could reach out with the smallest of needs, such as forgetting to pick up a prescription or needing someone to bring in her mail, to great needs such as overnight stays and unpleasant hospital stints.

As her health continued to diminish and care needs increased, Team Susan was at the ready. This provided both my brother and me great comfort. We could attend important doctor visits and have leisurely family visits, knowing that my mom’s growing needs were being met. Thanks to Team Susan, my mom was able to live independently until a month before she died.

My mom was a strong woman who endured unfathomable pain from breast cancer. She did so with a dazzling smile, light heart, and unbelievable will to live. She met every challenge with unrelenting strength and yet the soft touch of an angel.

On the five-year anniversary of my mom’s death, I hope to pass on a message of hope and a gift that was given to me, to share the care of someone you love.

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