The visual report for the week of October 3, 2013:
The visual report for the week of October 3, 2013:
The visual report for the week of September 19, 2013:
The visual report from the week of July 25, 2013
July 20, Runako Jahi got to play a part close to his heart.
The visual report from the week of July 18, 2013.
Vera Calhoun-Russell sleeps soundly just ten feet from where she was born more than 100 years ago in a house her father built on a hill in Villa Ridge.
Despite losing her husband to World War II before having children of their own, Vera took in and cared for others for most of her adult life.
“We went to church every Sunday and there was no excuse about not going,” Vera’s youngest daughter, Janice Russell-Couch said. “She will tell you about the old days, when they come back to her memory.”
Born January 15, 1909 to parents Pearl and Ralph Calhoun, Vera was the seventh of eight children. She ended a 20-year teaching career she held in Chicago to return to Villa Ridge and help her parents take care of the house and family. She has not left since.
“She says, ‘I have been here a long time,’ and I say, ‘Yes you have,’” Janice said of her 104-year-old mother. “She has her good days and her bad days.”
Signs of dementia began to set in around 2004, said Janice, adding that she had to learn to accept that her mother was not as strong or able as she once was.
“I always see it this way,” Janice said. “She took care of me when I was little, so now it is my turn to make sure I take care of her.”
The room in which Vera stays is filled with family photos and artifacts. Hung above her head is a painted portrait of her father, Ralph Calhoun, who built the family home, and across the room is her high school diploma, presented to her June 16, 1923. She often tells stories of the “old days,” of picking strawberries, raising children and preparing family meals.
“Mom was a fun person. She liked to do things. She liked to travel,” Janice said. “She always told us you had to work hard for your money.”
As an avid gardener and independent person, it was not easy for Vera to give up doing for herself. Throughout her life, she took in and brought up more than ten children, some for only a few months or a few years, but others she raised through to adulthood. Despite the change in their roles as caretakers, her daughter Janice still sees Vera as a caring mother who was firm but loving.
“When you love somebody and help somebody that can’t take care of themselves, that’s just a blessing,” Janice said, adding, “One day you are going to be blessed for helping them.”
In 2000, Vera learned of her daughter’s husband-to-be, Allen Couch.
“She wanted to make sure Allen would take care of me,” Janice said.
The two married in 2005 and for Janice the role of caretaker now took on a new meaning: co-caretaker. When they met, Janice was finishing a master’s degree in education, working as a Pre-K teacher for Meridian School District and took care of her mother on her own. After they married, Allen took on many of the tasks Janice previously juggled to complete.
“Most of the things I have done in my life were basically for me,” Allen said. “But, when I began to care for other people, I found that this is what I am good at doing.”
Allen said it was love that drew him to Janice; however, her situation was one he identified with and his affection for her grew out of her passion and commitment to helping her mother.
“It’s like God said, ‘This is where you belong. You are needed there,’” he said. “I accepted it very easily.”
Allen said he has grown to love and care for Vera as his own mother, whom he lost soon after he and Janice began dating. No stranger to the difficulties of caring for an elderly parent, Allen said he brought solace to Janice’s hectic life.
“It was easier for me because I [did] this kind of live-in and health aid for other people … and then, dealing with my mom and my dad.”Allen said. He he understood what she was going through.
Today, the couple continues to care for Vera but recently she qualified for 30 hours a week of in-home care through Shawnee Development Council and Medicare, allowing them to pursue activities previously difficult to maintain. While Allen often spends time with family in Tennessee and Janice maintains an active role in church and work, one always remains available for Vera.
Janice said her mother often says something in preparing her for the inevitable.
“She will say, ‘I’m not going to be here long with you, my days are numbered,’” Janice said. “I think about it. I know one day she is not going to be here.”
At 104 years old, Vera’s regular check ups provide her with a clean bill of health each time. While she lost much of her mobility four years ago and spends most of her days in bed, other than arthritis in her knees, she has no other chronic medical problems.
Allen said spending time with Vera has helped him put his own life into perspective.
“We don’t realize how blessed we are that we are able to get up and walk out of the house and come back in and fix our food and go to the bathroom when we want to,” Allen said. “So she really makes you think about how blessed and how thankful we should be.”
A typical day in the Russell-Couch household starts before the sun rises. Prayers are said and breakfast is made. Allen and Janice help bathe and dress Vera before her home care workers arrive by 9 a.m. When Allen is at home, he will often stay on to help the nurses throughout the day while Janice is working or running errands. For many, providing such intimate care for an in-law would be difficult, said Allen, adding he finds it an honor to be able to tend to her.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,” Allen said, quoting a Bible verse from the book of Ephesians. He said prayer is a big part of Vera’s life, too.
“Sometimes she will be in pain and she will say, ‘I’m praying that God will come here and take this away from me,’” Allen said. “I think that is what [keeps] her here today, her faithfulness and trust in God taking care of her.”He said Vera enjoys hearing him read from the Bible and hearing his prayers. “One thing that she does remember … is who God is.”
Janice recalls those Sundays when she and her family would walk from their house to the nearby Methodist church, which now sits on her family’s property. She would sit in the pew, her and her siblings in handmade dress clothes, listening to the sermon as one big family.
“She talks about how good God has been to her,” Janice said, not wanting to dwell on Vera’s next step.
“It will be a difficult thing whenever it happens,” Allen said, though he trusts in God to do what is best.
“God knows what he is doing,” he said.
–Isaac Smith can be reached at (618)-734-4242