.Caregiver of the Month
February 2002

Dee Ratcliff
A Family Caregiving One Another


Dee

Dee's Mom

With prayers and thanks to all of you
who give of yourselves each and every day,
in my heart you are all God's special angels.

I came to your site looking for HOPE,
you gave it to me.
I came to your site looking for COMFORT,
you gave it to me.
I came to your site looking for UNDERSTANDING,
you gave it to me.
I came to your site looking for FRIENDSHIP,
and you were there.

I wrote the above because this is how I feel. I found this site while I was searching for some answers, and once here I didn't have to look further. What a blessing this site has been to me. Before I say anymore, I want to commend you all for your strength and courage. Never in my life have I seen such courage as I have at this site.

Dealing with illness, be it short term or long term, is difficult. Let's face it, it's not the normal way of life, whatever "normal" is. I haven't quite figured this out yet, and I question if there is such a thing as normal.

I have been fighting chronic Sarcoidosis for almost 26 years. To say the least it's been a roller coaster ride, and just between you and me, I'm not that fond of roller coasters. I was very blessed in that I had a loving mother, Mary Ratcliff, and a dear son, Bob Ratcliff, as my support team when I was diagnosed with this disease. To give up was not an option for us. We faced this as a challenge, and challenges are to be met. I will not deny for a minute that this disease did not turned our lives upside down, but we were determined to not let it control us. In fact to show you how I think, I rarely refer to Sarcoidosis as a disease but rather as a "hurt," because in my mind people can overcome a "hurt," and the word disease just sounds so much worse.

Sarcoidosis attacks your immune system. This can make life interesting at best. My son had to be tutored because there was too great a risk of my getting sick if one of the kids at school happened to be ill. This was very hard on my son as he had to learn at a very young age to be my caregiver, and to this day it makes sad when I think of his lost youth because of Sarcoidosis. There aren't words to begin to thank my son for doing all he did for me, but he knows how appreciative I am. I believe most people are appreciative for the time and care given to them by caregivers. At times I would feel such guilt as I knew that this disease (that had come into our lives like an unwelcome guest) was robbing my son of so much. Bob and I learned to get through the rough times we had by making light of it. Bob was blessed with a wonderful personality, and no matter how rough things got he was there with a smile and with a caring heart. This is what made the difference in my life. Today we can both look back on those times, and yes, they were difficult, but it helped Bob prepare for what he was facing as an adult. You see, my son has phase three of RSD, and was also involved in a work related accident so he is now in a wheelchair. For me this is heartbreaking. He is blessed in that he has a loving wife, but it is still a rough road to travel. He is dealing with this with courage, and is truly my hero.

My mother was always there for us, and was the source of our strength more often than she will ever know. What a blessing she was and still is. My mother is very beautiful not only on the outside but on the inside as well, and up until a couple of years ago dated a lot. I used to kid her and tell her one day I was going to write a book about her. Things were about to change and now it was to be my time to care for my mother. How quickly you realize you really don't know what is going to happen from minute to minute and how fragile life is. I think sometimes we almost need a reminder in this busy hurry-up-world in which we live.

In December of 1999, my mother had a heart attack. We made major changes after this, but more were ahead. On July 4, 2000, Mother had a stroke. With this stroke we were dealing with even more obstacles, and in the same month I faced yet another medical crisis that put our lives into a tail spin. Due to my health at this time we decided (as a team) that Mother would go into assisted living. I thought my heart would break because I felt I'd let mother down. I am learning this guilt thing is something most of us face at one time or another as caregivers. This emotion seems to stalk us and it is devastating. I tried giving the guilt up to God, but before He could work in my life I was taking it back, and my mind would be whirling with many negative emotions.

In July of 2001 I had a total knee replacement. It was something I had been putting off for a year-and-a-half, and it had reached a point where I could no longer avoid the surgery. It was anything but easy, and as I write this I am still fighting to walk again as I should.

I spent two months with Mother at Epoch in assisted living. It was wonderful, and everyone was so caring. I might add I even took my 9 year old cat, Missy, with me. She loved all the attention, and she was the bell of the ball at Epoch. For as many negatives that you hear about assisted living, if you find the right place it can have even more positives, and this is what we found at Epoch. I am writing a book that deals with assisted living in hopes I can help others who face this decision.

Despite all the pluses with assisted living, in September of last year I really wanted to bring Mother home with me, bad leg and all. For three months I tried to take care of us both and Missy, and with each day that passed it was harder to do. I really think God looks at me at times and wonders if He shouldn't just hit me in the head with a rock to make me realize what I can and can't do. With my A+ personality maybe He knows I am one of these people who has to stumble and fall so I will realize my limitations, and then I will listen to Him as I should have in the beginning.

Wanting to do it ALL for Mother to make her life as nice as I could caused me to become increasingly tired and develop additional medical problems. Each day I prayed for strength, but little by little my strength was getting weaker and weaker. Simply put, I crashed, and there was nothing I could do to prevent it. Nothing.

As I read your wonderful articles, tears ran down my cheeks. You are all faced with such unbelievable obstacles. When I read about you, and what you are going through, your challenges seem to be insurmountable. All I could think of was how I could make it better for you. In all of you I see such amazing strength.

When I was forced to admit I could no longer care for Mother and had to put her back into assisted living a part of me died. I felt I had again let her down, but now I want to share with you what I am feeling now that I've been able to get a perspective on all of this.

As caregivers all we can do is the best we know how. All families and situations differ, so there are no right or wrong ways of doing things. We do what we do because of love and because we care. It is as simple as that. I am finally realizing that guilt just doesn't fit into the equation.

When I could no longer be mother's caregiver, I felt so sad and empty. I had tried, and you can bet I had given it my best. I'm still here for my mother as she is for me, and as we both are for my son, Bob and his wife. It's called being a team. I think I had to learn that if you give something as best you can, you never fail. Failure only comes in not trying at all.

If ever I can help or encourage you please contact me. I am just an e-mail away. God bless you.

Copyrighted by Dee Ratcliff 2002

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