Quietly and humbly, Maricela “Mari” has lived a life of service to others, even while she was battling cancer. After Mari’s mother returned to school and became a teacher to help support their family that included seven children, 12-year-old Mari began taking care of her siblings. One was a beloved younger sister who had Down’s syndrome. “I have been caregiving since I was a child. I began taking care of my young sister when she was a baby. Knowing I could take care of the whole family at an early age made me a strong person. I believe it was the basis for dealing with difficult situations later in life,” Mari said.
Mari, who earned a bachelor’s degree in history and liberal arts, and later in criminal justice, spent a highly successful 33-year career in federal and state court systems. She was an interpreter as well as serving in many other roles, including pre-sentence investigations and coordination of other processes. At the state attorney general office’s request, Mari was an advocate for domestic-violence victims and was involved with setting up protection orders. Her father passed away in 2013, and her younger sister, who was in hospice, died in 2014. That is when Mari decided to work for Kelly Hutchison’s award-winning Home Instead® franchise in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. She served as a weekend live-in Caregiver while still working weekdays in the courts and is now honored with her Caregiver of the Month award.
About two years after joining Home Instead, stunning challenges jolted Mari’s life and forced her to leave both jobs. “I suffered a reoccurrence of cancer, and my mother suffered a stroke, and dementia followed. Mom, who had continued to work as a teacher until she was 80, required my 24/7 care. To comfort her, I would sleep next to her and hold her hand. In addition to the stroke and dementia, the deaths of my father and sister left Mom heartbroken,” Mari explained.
Working for Home Instead was a huge help for Mari when she became her mother’s full-time family caregiver. “The dementia training gave me the expertise, and the actual Home Instead dementia care gave me the experience. It really helped to receive the professional training. I knew how to work with my mother’s doctors and neurologist,” Mari said.
Referring to her Home Instead clients, Mari said: “Each client has a different personality and different dementia stage, so you constantly are making adjustments. It could change every day sometimes. Knowing that those with late-stage dementia might become violent helped me. In those cases, it’s not just compassion that wins the day. It’s a lot of developing more awareness and a reservoir of patience.”
After Mari’s mother died in 2020, Mari wanted to return to Home Instead but did not resume her court-systems career. People have asked Mari, “Why are you in senior care? Why don’t you just return to a court-systems job where you can make more money?”
Mari replies: “This is better for my soul. I have senior-care challenges, but none of them are intentional acts like the ones you see in the court system. Seniors are people who have just aged and now need help to live. In the court system, you see such heinous crimes.” As a Home Instead Caregiver, I am doing something for someone else that is worthy, and it is good for me. The seniors feel good, and I feel fulfilled. When a cousin asked about my work, he totally understood why I chose this path. He said, ‘Good for you.’ That helped my self-esteem.”