No one would have blamed Sharon Hartley if she had withdrawn from caregiving, especially given the continuous episodes of heartbreak she had endured. But Sharon never lost her passion for helping others because of her unwavering faith. As a family caregiver, Sharon took care of her husband's aunt, her mother-in-law, one of her husband's distant relatives, her husband and a friend's elderly father. All died within a few years.
"My mother-in-law moved in with us, then she and my husband were diagnosed with cancer months apart. She suffered a broken leg, went to a nursing home and passed away," Sharon explained. "My husband Clifton's health declined, and he died two years later, Jan. 11, 2012, at age 49, in our home. It was a blessing to have him here until the end. We were married for 20 wonderful years. His strong faith was unbelievable."
Three years after her husband's death, Sharon joined Home Instead Senior Care® of Winchester and worked for a short time as a CAREGiver, but she quit to focus on her two children. "I found I needed to be home with them for a while longer," she recalled. "The Lord blessed us when I later went back to Home Instead Senior Care and asked them if I could return. They said, 'Yes, of course. We were waiting for you.' So, in February 2018, I rejoined Home Instead."
In December, Sharon was honored as CAREGiver of the Month for the Home Instead Senior Care franchise that serves the Northern Shenandoah Valley.
Sharon's first client was a blessing. "She was a dear lady. It didn't feel as if I was going to work – it was more like seeing a new friend. The first time I was with her, she warned of her challenges, saying, 'It won't be fun tonight.' It was no problem. I helped her with personal care. I enjoyed my time with her and grabbed all the hours I could. I couldn't help her enough. After I finished everything I needed to do, we'd talk and enjoy each other's company," Sharon said.
"But her health declined because of a recurrence of cancer, and I was with her the day before she passed in November at age 89. She told me, 'We won't have any more long talks here, but we will later when we see each other again.' The tears flowed. She had a strong faith, and we talked about heaven. She was not afraid to die. I shared my husband's experience with her. She had questions, and I think our talks helped with her reassurance. She told me the day before she died, 'I am so glad you're here.' I was able to make her life better and could get a smile."
Sharon added: "Death is not a scary thing. I was holding hands with my husband and mother-in-law when they died. It hurts when they cross over. My client has met my husband, I believe. They know each other. They are waiting for me, and I will be headed there some day."
Sharon shared other thoughts:
Question: How do you keep your faith as family, friends and clients pass away?
Sharon: "That's what family members were asking: 'How are you? How do you handle this?' Many tragedies cannot be explained; Proverbs 3:5 says, 'Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.' My favorite inspirational saying comes from the movie 'God's Not Dead': 'God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.' God was good when my husband died. God walked with me on the mountaintops and carried me in the valleys. God gave me two wonderful children."
Question: How do you handle your work situation after a client has passed?
Sharon: "I never go to a shift unless I am 100 percent emotionally ready to help a client. It's usually not long. I recall my dad advising me to 'get out of my chair' after my husband died, and he meant I needed to re-engage in life again. As far as a CAREGiver's personal burdens go, I believe everything stays outside the clients' home. I don't burden clients with my worries because they have enough with which to deal."
Question: Beyond the loss of a client, what challenge stands out most?
Sharon: "This is not uncommon for CAREGivers: I once had to win over a client's wife. She was uncomfortable when I had a shift with them for the first time. She glared at me at the start. I was not patronizing, but I always was polite and said, 'Yes, ma'am,' and always asked about the things to do even though I knew what I had to do. I did things that kept her in control. When it came time for me to leave, she hugged me and asked me when I'd come back."
Question: How do you handle the difficult dementia behaviors?
Sharon: "You have understand that challenging behaviors aren't really who they are – it's the dementia. Of course, there's repetition, but that's not tough. Some people develop a sweetness as the dementia deepens, and some go the other direction. Someone once asked me, 'What's up with your client?' I replied, 'This is not her normal personality.' With one client, God love her, she could go from saying, 'You are worthless' to 'You are the best thing since sliced bread.' I do love working with every client and helping them. I've been able to do what they needed."
Question: What feels most fulfilling about your job?
Sharon: "I taught school for 15 years before I had kids. I loved seeing the light bulb go on for students when they understood a concept with which they'd struggled. With clients, it's equally fulfilling to see a smile when I am with them, especially knowing the challenges they face and how hard it is for them to feel good sometimes."
All Home Instead Senior Care CAREGivers are screened, trained, bonded and insured. For inquiries about employment, please call (540) 722-8750 or apply online. For further information about our home care services, please visit Home Instead Senior Care .