Independent Doesn’t Mean Alone

My mother was fiercely independent. A former Army nurse who served in the Korean War and a woman who raised 6 children and countless pets of all kinds (she did draw the line at rodents) while balancing a nursing career during an era when most women didn’t work outside the home, Vicki almost defined the word ‘independence.’ 
In her 80s, though, she began to have health problems that truly jeopardized her well-being. Despite her health care background (or because of it?) and the fact that all three of her daughters were involved in health care in one way or another, she was determined to ‘go it alone.’ Her feisty attitude translated into several years on the roller coaster of health care crises with Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (COPD). Even with our health and senior care expertise, we were unable to stop the cycle of emergencies, hospitalizations, nursing home stays, home health and outpatient rehab sessions, and her accompanying loss of functionality, choices, and independence.

Those services addressed her current acute health needs but did little to break the cycle of crises she kept experiencing. Her physician was phenomenal but limited in what he could do, even with monthly office visits.

We reached a point where we knew she needed help and we, her children, needed help. Our goal was the same as hers: to keep her as independent as possible. And yet she seemed to think that meant doing it alone. We feared that meant more crises ahead, complete with emotional trauma for all and rapid decline for her.

Could she continue to live alone? We were all at a breaking point. She had already lost so much. And we were so fearful of losing her. Then our fears were realized: she was given a prognosis of six months or less to live.

Now we get to the good part. We did convince her to get support – the right kind of support with the elements that made the difference. And what a difference it made for all of us. The ongoing nursing care management on a weekly basis provided proactive guidance to catch problems early before they became crises. She blossomed with the regular social interaction she was getting, including the arrangement for her to receive communion at home (that had been a major spiritual anguish for Vicki). My siblings and I had added support for physician appointments and medication management. More importantly, we had trusted advisors we could look to for insights and with questions to help us feel confident in supporting each other as well as Mom at home.

With the right support, Mom actually became more independent than before. She continued to live for another year on her own, and then once she moved in with my sister, she lived for another year-and-half. Add that up – she lived for two-and-half more years after getting a prognosis of six months or less. It took a team, and the support she received from everyone involved, especially my sister, gave her opportunities she never would have had alone.

And during those two-and-half years she was completely off the roller coaster of health care crises. While previously she had had two or more hospitalizations a year, she went 2 ½ years without any emergency room visits or even one hospitalization. Yes, she declined, but she declined on her terms, with a spark in her eyes and in her life.

And so when I hear someone saying ‘I’m independent, I can do it on my own,’ I chuckle, remember my mom and encourage them to learn what Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer learned from his elf-friend Hermey in the animated holiday classic: “Let’s be independent together.”

I hope they will learn earlier what my mom finally learned. None of us can do it alone. Being independent alone is a façade. We all need others to help us remain in control and to protect our well-being. Don’t wait like my mom did to lose so much before you reach out for support – especially proactive support.

Vicki was lucky. She was able to live 2 ½ more years. But how I wish we had started earlier, and never let the roller coaster of crisis start. How I wish that we had been ‘independent together’ from the start.

Karen CarneyKaren Carney, Vice President of Marketing & Communications

Karen’s career has been building toward Lifesprk from her very first exposure to community-based care. Ever since, she has been committed to helping people achieve a different experience – one that is whole-person oriented, customer-centric and life-enriching. Karen brings more than 30 years’ experience in health services marketing and business development, establishing herself as a national expert on the topic. A frequent speaker at national and regional conferences, she is also past Editor and Publisher of Home Advantage Newsletter, a national publication that provided marketing and communication tactics for home care providers. Prior to joining Lifesprk, she also served as the Vice President of Marketing and Business Development for Hospice of the North Shore in Danvers, MA, helping to grow it into the largest in the state. A graduate of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, she’s a past adjunct professor at both Regis College and the University of New Hampshire Division of Continuing Education.