Lucy. Our dear Lucy Holt. She is no more.
For a while I didn’t even know her last name, even though I saw her many times a week. She was just Lucy, like a sibling or very close friend whom you don’t refer to by last name. We may say of Lucy that if anyone ever proved that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, it was Lucy.
The odds were stacked against her. Lucy was a native of Peru. Like many who try to master a foreign language, she could understand better than she could speak. This did not stop her from acquiring her certification as a caregiver (CNA), and while I am not sure of the extent of her education before she immigrated as an adult, Lucy was smart. And did she work!
Besides taking care of my mother, the late Miriam Goldberg (1916-2017), Lucy also took care of her own mother, a full time job of its own. She also cared for her granddaughter so that her daughter could finish her professional degree. Add it up — language, education, focus. In Lucy’s case, oh how the whole far outstripped the parts.
My mother’s English and Lucy’s Spanish notwithstanding, Lucy was extremely effective.
Lucy could convince Mom to eat when other caregivers could not.
Lucy could figure out what Mom needed medically when others, including nurses and other health specialists, could not.
Lucy trained new caregivers with great skill and a surefootedness that formal training alone rarely bestows.
Lucy kept track of Mom’s needs throughout the night, always with a full report the next morning. It didn’t matter that by 8 a.m. Lucy had to be off to her next job.
What Lucy might have lacked in formal education, she more than made up for in wisdom and insight. She came up with all manner of suggestions for modifications in how Mom was being treated, for questions for doctors, for adjustments in Mom’s diet, for advice about supplements. Lucy had uncanny insight into Mom. Lucy’s wisdom inspired confidence in her suggestions.
After a while, I came to see that Lucy’s advice was a cut above. It is not practical to call a doctor a few times a day for every bump in the road. Over time, I came to rely on Lucy, taking seriously everything she suggested.
Along the way, we all noticed Mom’s plants were growing and blossoming as never before. We used to joke that it looked like a jungle in there. How so? Lucy had a green thumb. While taking are of Mom, Lucy beautified the home. She made nothing of it. During down time in the middle of the night, Lucy did her magic with the plants.
Lucy took her religion very seriously in the church on 8th and Holly St. — the old Beth Joseph Synagogue —so I heard a lot about what was transpiring in a building in which many of my childhood friends spent so much time. Of greater interest, Lucy mentioned that when someone died in her family in Peru, they covered the mirrors. Possible Marrano fragments never seem to stop popping up.
I learned this from Lucy: ethnicity, language, experience, age, education, national origin really aren’t the criteria for being an effective caregiver for the very elderly. Either you have it or you don’t. It is its own talent.
It’s not a culmination or consequence of other skills.
As the years went by, I stopped asking substantive questions during interviews for caregivers because whatever I was told was not necessarily an indicator, at all, of how effective a prospective caregiver would be. I remember interviewing one person and asking about her experience. She had 30 years of experience! Yet, she didn’t last a week. I remember interviewing another person, all of 22 years old — how much experience could she possibly have had? — yet she was terrific. So after a while the only thing I tried to ascertain during interviews was whether the prospective caregiver was reliable.
Lucy was an independent contractor. She preferred that over working for an agency. But this meant that she had no health insurance. She received medical care once a year, when she would travel somewhere south of the border. That was where she could get care at little or no cost.
I do not recall how long it was after Mom died that Lucy became ill. She had a lot of treatments. Those she worked for after Mom died also came to see how special Lucy was, and helped her as best they could. As did we. Lucy was very appreciative. But ultimately the treatments did not work. Now this beautiful friend is gone.
Our experience is hardly unique. Caregivers who end up spending a long time with a loved one become part of the family. In fact, after Mom died, we tried to find other employment for Lucy, with some success. No longer, however, will this beautiful soul be able to help another elderly person.
May her memory — the memory of Lucy Holt — be a blessing.
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