Sometimes the things happen in a person’s life seem meant to be. For Jim Myers, it seems he was meant to be a caregiver.
Growing up, Jim’s sister was mentally disabled. He watched his parents take care of her and learned what it was like to be around a person with different challenges.
When he and his wife Judy were 25, their son Dan was born with cerebral palsy.
“With any baby, you have to take care of them all the time, but Dan would always need someone to take care of him, even as an adult. We just continued to say, ‘okay, he’s getting bigger, so how do we handle this?'” Jim said. While Dan’s body may fail, his mind is sharp and very bright. Jim and Judy made adjustments to accommodate Dan and tried to provide as many experiences as possible, like camping and other family vacations. Dan eventually moved into a group home as an adult.
Then 5 years ago, Judy was diagnosed with early onset dementia.
“The things I’ve done for Dan I’m now doing for Judy,” he said. “Dress and bathe and feed and help with the toilet. Everything.”
While the Myers’ shared the responsibility of taking care of Dan together, Jim is now the sole caregiver for his wife Judy. As the disease progressed, he hired in-home respite care so he could go to work and do things after work for himself, like doing laundry or spending time with friends. But mostly, he wants to spend as much time as he can with Judy.
“We’re best friends. We’ve been married 37 years and she’s my best friend,” he said.
Her disease has progressed to the point that she can’t go for walks very much and her sentences are short and jumbled, but spending time with people, especially Jim and their three children, brings her a lot of joy.
“It’s still cute to see the response that you get when you tell her that you love her,” he said. “I just sit on the couch next to her, and I put my arm around her and I say, ‘I love you,’ and she sits there and nods and smiles. She says, ‘Mhmm mhmm, you’re a pretty person, I love you too.’ She is just a sweetie.”
Judy has always had a kind heart and remembering moments where she was especially thoughtful always lifts his spirits. When they were younger, the Myers would often spend time with Jim’s parents and sister on the weekends. Sometimes, Jim would want to cancel because he wanted to rest. Judy wouldn’t allow it.
“She would say, ‘You know, your mom needs a break. She takes care of your sister and dad all week and she needs out of the house. Just pick up a pizza and go get them,'” Jim said. “That wasn’t for her own parents, that was her mother-in-law.”
Most people wonder why painful things happen, and Jim has had his share of sleepless nights pondering that exact question. How could so many people in one family have so many different challenges?
“I’ve just come to the conclusion that I’m supposed to learn something from this and I guess share it,” he said. That something is empathy.
“Some people can’t accept the person who has a challenge, for who they are. Why can’t they do this? They try to change the person, and you can’t, you have to accept them for who they are now. They didn’t choose this,” Jim said.
“With dementia, it can take a normal person, someone who you know how to relate to, and it can change them right before your eyes. If that doesn’t teach us empathy, nothing will,” he said.
Jim attends meetings with other caregivers at Alzheimer’s and Dementia Services of Northern Indiana, both to get advice from other caregivers and to share his knowledge and experiences with others. He’s grateful when he has the chance to help others going through a similar circumstance.
His advice for people struggling with empathy? Remember the Serenity Prayer.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
REAL Services is the only organization helping local Alzheimer’s and dementia patients and their families with their day-to-day needs. Do you need help? Call REAL Services at 574-233-8205. REAL Services & Home Comfort Experts are All In For Alzheimer’s.
(Photo Supplied/REAL Services)