CAREGiver of the Month Wanda Carper will never forget The Great Adventure, a 555-mile, six-day trip with a 97-year-old client and another CAREGiver that took place not long after Wanda joined Home Instead Senior Care® of Winchester in June 2012. Wanda and the CAREGiver fulfilled their client's fervent wish by driving her to her birthplace in Gruetli, Tennessee, and exploring the cherished stomping grounds of her youth in Grundy County in rural southeast Tennessee while visiting with old friends and relatives. The client began her education in a one-room schoolhouse, and she completed her education 37 years later graduating from the University of Tennessee in 1958 with a bachelor's degree in accounting.
"Our client had dementia and struggled with her short-term memory," Wanda recalled, "but she remembered every back road, and she directed us wherever she wanted to go. It was as if we were stepping back into history and taking a trip down her memory lane. It was wonderful, not only for her but for us. I kept a day-by-day journal, and her family gave me a photo of her."
The trip also served as a turning point for Wanda, who didn't know if the mercurial client had truly bonded with her. "I wasn't sure if I was a good match for the client or not," Wanda admitted. "She had rejected other CAREGivers and could make it hard on you from time to time. After the trip, I realized how sweet she was and that any contrary behavior was really the result of dementia and not from her heart."
Wanda analyzed her three-year experience with the client in terms of her strong faith, saying, "God lets us see certain things, and He touched me in a special way on the trip. And it wasn't just me and the trip. We had a pretty good 24/7 team of CAREGivers with the client, and all of us CAREGivers figured out what we could individually do for her to make her day better. With each of us, it was something a little different, but we put it together with the help of great communication. It was a challenge we all loved."
The client had been a schoolteacher, and she and Wanda would work on crossword puzzles. "She was as sharp as a tack in this particular instance. I would ask her what the word might be, and she'd correctly give it to me. She also was the author of a poetry book and other publications. With her permission and assistance, I wrote a poem about her," Wanda said.When her client died in Winchester on Nov. 10, 2015, at age 100, Wanda knew she had one more trip to make with her client. Wanda accompanied her client's remains to Hixson, Tennessee, for the Nov. 13 burial at Hamilton Memorial Gardens, where she was laid to rest next to her husband. "When I went to Hixson," Wanda said, "I was being true to my word to my client to travel to Tennessee with her for her burial. Following through with the promise to her was akin to the Home Instead Senior Care motto that states, 'To us, it's personal.' "
A friend flew in from Minnesota to join Wanda for the burial. "My client's death also reunited me with the CAREGiver who had gone on the trip three years earlier with our client. She had moved from Virginia to be closer to family. We had a great time catching up and reminiscing about our client," Wanda said. "We have remained close and communicate with often."
Three days after the burial, Wanda read the poem in honor of her client as part of a memorial service at Shenandoah Valley Westminster Canterbury on the northern edge of Winchester.
All in all, Wanda has loved her caregiving experience with owner Aaron Blight's Home Instead Senior Care franchise that serves the Northern Shenandoah Valley, including 25 other communities in addition to Winchester. It started with a glance at a newspaper advertisement.
As a family caregiver, Wanda had taken care of her mother – with the help of family and friends – for 4½ years because of her Parkinson's. "We kept her in her home, where she wanted to be and where she was happy, until she died in April 2012 at age 74. It was sad because we were pretty close. After she died, I knew I needed to care for someone else. Home Instead Senior Care's presence in the newspaper ad just stuck out at me," Wanda said.
"Since I had not done anything like that, I worried about training. But Home Instead Senior Care gave me all the training I needed and also provides ongoing training. I already had picked up a lot about senior care that I hadn't even realized. In retrospect, caring for Mom had prepared me for what I need to do as a CAREGiver."
While praising Home Instead Senior Care, she noted the office's ability to match CAREGiver and client, as well as being flexible with hours and work shifts. Wanda is a family caregiver for her grandchildren and is active in her church. "Home Instead Senior Care is patient, too," Wanda said. "I had injured a leg and was off for a month. I don't think I could have kept my job with any other employer. They cared for me just as they care for their clients."
It's the kind of support Wanda provides for her clients and family. She takes it a step further, too. "It's important to be there for our seniors in every way possible," Wanda said. "I pray for them before I even go into their homes. I am touched by what I see as God's hand at work with them. As good and unexpected as the CAREGiver of the Month honor was, I am a behind-the-scenes person who just wants to help and take it all in when it pleases and blesses someone. I feel that is my reward, and that an even greater reward awaits."
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