Susan was overwhelmed. Her job allowed her to work from home to care for her mother, Adeline, but juggling work tasks with her mother’s increasing need for care proved challenging beyond what she thought was possible.
Adeline had dementia and colon cancer. She had been a school teacher and in between moments of agitation she still had a warm, friendly tone to her now nonsensical speech.
As a music therapist for Adeline, I would visit her home, and Susan was always quick to apologize as their three large, joyful rescue dogs tripped over each other to greet me at the door, or tried to vocalize along with our music. Even with a caregiver eight hours a day and support from our hospice staff, Susan was hurried and anxious.
Susan grieved her mother’s cognitive decline. Growing up, she had admired her mother’s intelligence and was taught to value her own. Now that Adeline could no longer answer simple questions, Susan felt her mom was "already gone." She spoke of rare moments of increased lucidity like visits from a ghost — each time her mother was able to orient to reality and speak with her, she knew it may be the last time.
I’ve worked in the healthcare industry my entire professional life.
During my last year at Northern Illinois University, I completed an internship at a local nursing home and after graduation, became the director of social services there. This experience truly allowed me to foster my love of helping others and making a difference. Through the years, I found where my strengths lie in service to others. I achieved certification and received my Nursing Home Administrator’s License, quickly accepting an administrator position locally.
Shortly thereafter, my mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness.
A few years ago, while watching 'Law & Order,' I thought, “I’d make a terrible witness; I never notice anything.” So I decided to pay closer attention to my surroundings, at least while walking my dogs in the woods. This would help my art, too, I felt.
At first, I noticed trees, discovering that, for me, trees with broken or damaged bark offered more interesting compositions. But I gradually realized that a scarred trunk and missing bark exposed the beating heart of the living creature, and its vulnerability. I began to feel compassion and affection for the trees in the forest preserve.
Hospice therapy pets, like the sweet miniature therapy horses that visit our Hospice CareCenters, bring love, laughter and comforting companionship to those on the end-of-life journey. Visits from these furry volunteers and their handlers provide patients with a welcome distraction from illness and help them feel more relaxed.
Becoming a volunteer for JourneyCare, doing pet therapy, has been a high point in my life.