COBB COUNTY, Ga. - When Tina Lively's elderly mother Christine was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2005, the Cobb County realtor thought she was on her own, but she was wrong.
Lively, says her mom, who lived to 83, was a true steel magnolia.
"My mother was a character, in every sense of the word," Lively says. "She was fiery, but yet she was sugary-sweet."
Mother and daughter were so alike, Lively says, they often butted heads.
Still, when Christine was diagnosed with dementia, Tina was determined to keep her at home, even if it meant taking care of her mother by herself.
She quit her job, moved in with her mother, and became her mom's caregiver.
"Because financially I couldn't afford other help," Lively remembers. "Plus, I, just for some reason, felt the need to take care of her, almost like she was my child."
"I'm not sure I could do what she did," says Nancy Pavuk, a certified hospice and palliative care nurse with WellStar Hospice. "Tina cared for her mother 24-7, and she did a beautiful job."
Lively found Pavuk and WellStar Hospice after years of struggling as a caregiver.
"Towards the end, the last 4 years, I was housebound with her," Lively says. "I'd go down to the mailbox, maybe take the dogs for a walk down the street, something like that."
A friend and cousin helped, but Lively says her mother could be combative, leaving her exhausted.
"You don't have time to take care of yourself," she says. "You don't have time to eat properly. All of these things."
She would bathe her mother, cook for her, and make sure she was taking her medications.
"And, I'll be honest with you, many times I would go and stand at the kitchen sink and just scream, 'Oh, my God, I can't do this anymore,'" she says "What am I gonna do?'"
A friend told Tina about WellStar Hospice, which, she soon learned, was covered her mother's Medicare benefits.
Her mother could stay home, and registered nurses would come to the house. If Tina needed help, there was a number she could call.
"And that's huge," Pavuk says. "Because that keeps them from feeling like they're just floating out there, with no support."
Pavuk pushed Tina to take advantage of WellStar's Respite program, which allowed her to take her mom to a nearby hospice facility for several days at a time, so she could get a break.
"It's like a mini vacation," Lively says, "You get four to five days."
Often, Lively says, she would just go home and sleep for 3-4 days.
"I don't think she slept much when she was caring for her mom," Pavuk says.
Two years after her mom's death, Tina Lively has no real regrets.
But, she wishes she would have found help sooner than she did.
And she has some hard-earned advice for caregivers following in her footsteps.
"You have to eat right, and you have to take care of yourself," she says. "And, if you can make yourself, leave the house. Go somewhere."
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