Client Profile: “She’s Going Down, and You’re Going Down With Her”

“I have good friends, wonderful children, and a lovely wife. I couldn’t ask for more. I know what love is, and I have it all around me.”

Occasionally you meet a person who infuses every interaction with positivity. At Elder Law of East Tennessee, we have been blessed to build a relationship with Tom, a longterm life care planning client. Tom’s positive attitude, generosity, and compassion make him an inspirational client and caregiver.

Several years ago, Tom’s life changed when his high school sweetheart and wife, Mary Ann, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Tom became Mary Ann’s primary caregiver and retired from volunteer work at Rhea of Sunshine, an agency serving special needs adults, to care for his wife full time. When Mary Ann’s care at home became too much for Tom to handle, their three children suggested that Tom seek guidance at Elder Law of East Tennessee. His son observed, “She’s going down, and you’re going down with her.” Before that could happen, Tom wisely sought the help he needed. When he met with Amelia Crotwell at ELET, he felt relieved by her genuine concern and thorough understanding of the options available for Mary Ann’s care. He was grateful to find a holistic practice which could meet his needs and was full of “people who seem to care how and what I’m doing.”

In 2014, ELET found Mary Ann a new residence in a secure dementia unit and helped her become eligible for Medicaid benefits. The shift to nursing home residence ensured that Mary Ann received the care she needed while giving Tom respite as a caregiver. “She still greets me like she hasn’t seen me for a week, and it just makes my heart flip over,” says Tom about his frequent visits to see Mary Ann. While the separation was not easy, Tom befriended the staff and residents of the facility and has built a new network of friends and supporters through this transition.

Tom’s background working with developmental disabilities at Rhea of Sunshine prepared him with a unique perspective and set of caregiving tools. Yet he still faced common challenges of long-term caregiving: becoming overwhelmed by trying to meet his wife’s increasing needs and feeling guilty for never being able to do enough. Tom participated in the Powerful Tools for Caregivers course facilitated by Michael Mailahn and Connie Taylor of ELET. This course gave him confidence as a caregiver and helped him understand that he “didn’t do so bad after all.” He found a community of fellow caregivers with whom to share challenges and find the unexpected joys in caregiving. To Tom, caregiving has become a way to meditate on and demonstrate how much Mary Ann means to him every day.

Clients like Tom remind us that despite the tremendous stress of caregiving, there may also be a silver lining. By reaching out for needed support, Tom has built bridges for himself and his wife and also helped to support others in similar circumstances. At ELET, we encourage all of our clients and potential clients to ask for help before they reach a crisis, and an important part of what we do is help people to make these connections so that they, like Tom, can enjoy greater peace of mind.