When Ivan and I married in November 2019 and moved into the farmhouse just across the yard from his elderly parents, Jonas and Dorothy Kinsinger, I didn’t know we would soon be stepping into the role of caregivers.
Grandpa’s mind and physical health were already weakening when we married, but he could still walk, hold a conversation and share stories and jokes. We watched Grandpa’s health decline steadily over the next two years until, in the weeks before his death, he could no longer stand, even with help, and swallowing grew difficult. Caring for him during those two years called for considerable energy from Ivan’s mom, from Ivan and me, from Ivan’s four siblings and their spouses, and from several dear neighbors.
Now Grandpa is gone. Relatives and friends who came to express condolences shared memories of caring for their own parents. “Now it’s all worth it,” was a sentiment they commonly expressed. “Now you’re glad for everything you did for him.”
Yes. Now I don’t think so much of our interrupted nights of sleep, of the inconvenience of having our plans always wrapped around the needs of an older man. Now I am deeply glad we could care for Grandpa in his own home and that his last days were surrounded by the presence and routines of the people who loved him best.
In the Mennonite community I grew up in, home care was common, but nursing homes were also an option. In the Amish community here in Oakland, Md., nursing homes are rarely considered. Even people who have no children can expect church members will band together to care for them at home. This is beautiful, but it requires a community and culture of caregiving not all people have access to.
Despite cultural differences, I believe home care is a good option for people from any background. Here are some of the benefits we experienced, along with considerations a potential caregiver must make.
We saw Grandpa cared for in the place he wanted to be. “There’s no place like home,” is true for almost everybody. Even the best nursing homes find it hard to mimic the routines of home life. As a former nurse’s aide, I sometimes saw older people come to the nursing home and grow confused and out of touch with reality after being there for several days. I think it was because they were away from the normal rhythms of a home.
We interacted with Grandpa on a daily basis. Grandpa could watch his sons driving in the lane to do farm work. He got to see our little daughter almost every day, and the times we remember of him holding her and talking to her are precious. Family or friends frequently stopped by — a reality that wasn’t possible in nursing homes during COVID restrictions.
We grew together as a family. The stresses of caregiving could splinter a family. For us, even though disagreements arose, the support, encouragement and words of affirmation shared among family helped to make a difficult situation one that ultimately drew us together.
We had the satisfaction of doing something for our loved one. We did not do it perfectly. But we have the satisfaction of looking back and knowing that with our own two hands, we did what we could for him. When someone you love is gone, that’s worth a lot.
Community. One person cannot do it alone. Grandpa’s team consisted of eight people who gave part-time care, as well as fill-in people. Those who don’t have family to help must hire a care team.
Medical oversight. Grandpa’s doctor was willing to work with us from a distance when Grandpa could no longer travel. A nurse friend stopped by whenever we had a question or concern. Many people use Hospice.
Time. Ivan and I couldn’t easily plan trips or take spur-of-the-moment outings. Time spent with just our little family or pursuing our own interests was shortened. Many other people also gave time to Grandpa’s care.
Emotional strength. The many decisions and responsibility that come with caretaking are emotionally draining. A good support team and time to rest are paramount.
Although circumstances will not allow everyone to care for their loved ones at home, if doing so is a possibility for you, I assure you it is well worth the effort and tears.