Born at home in October of 1919 Avena and Adena were a surprise to their mother! Twins! At the time of delivery, the baby girls were gently placed on separate beds to tell them apart. The parents, still in shock, didn’t know what to name the babies. Amidst the flurry of excitement they were initially called “Big Baby” and “Little Baby”. Their mother finally named them Avena and Adena. Avena was always known to her family as “Big Un” as she was the larger of the twins.
Avena grew up during the depression with few possessions of her own. Her “Sunday” shoes were only worn for the short distance from a bridge near her home to the church a block away. Her dresses were made from flour sacks her mother had sewn together. She loved school, played basketball and taunted her oldest sister’s beaus mercilessly. It was only the sale of a small parcel of land that paid for her college education to become an elementary school teacher. While in college she met and married a medical student, Percy Cook. After the conclusion of World War II Percy graduated from Baylor College of Medicine and shortly thereafter, the Cook’s moved to a small country town and started a family of their own. Avena became a hospital volunteer and full time mother.
Avena and Percy traveled the world, made life-long friendships and supported their community. Three children, seven grandchildren and nine great grandchildren later they began to face the reality of needing a “little help at home.” Avena found herself at the age of 90 caring for her 88 year old husband. It wasn’t an easy decision to allow strangers into their lives but after much discussion Avena and Percy agreed to in-home caregivers.
Caregivers made life a little easier for Avena and it allowed the couple to conserve their energy and do things together that they really enjoyed. Then the unthinkable happened, her husband of seventy years passed away. She was alone. Family visited frequently, the visits were wonderful and uplifting but the goodbyes were heartbreaking. When Avena was 92 she began to have memory loss, weakness and depression. After years of caring for everyone else she herself now needed more care, and consented to move into her daughter’s home. It was a new environment for her but she adjusted to the new routine and new caregivers with grace.
Avena loved domino's, sitting on the back porch and watching little children at play. As her hearing and eyesight failed she managed to keep her sense of humor. She made the caregivers laugh with her rolling eyes, quick wit and smirking smile.
Almost two years later, on September 14, 2015 my mother passed away in my arms. She was the most wonderful woman, never an unkind word, giving and forgiving. Being a long distance caregiver for my parents and then having my mother live in my home changed me. It gave me a fresh perspective on care giving. It wasn’t the physical work of care giving that changed me, it was the ambiguous loss that overwhelmed me as my role changed from child to caregiver. The experience truly gave me deeper insight and empathy for the caregiver and the care receiver. Was the experience challenging? Yes, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.