Her son says her strength is central to understanding Annie Smith’s character.
“No matter what you do,” Lester Smith says, “when it comes to your parents, you never think you have done enough.”
Lester has been relentless in making sure his mother gets what she needs.
Annie was born in Georgia and moved to Dayton when she was a toddler. She and two sisters grew up in Dayton.
Lester said his mother’s health started slipping shortly after she retired from TRW Globe Motors where she worked in accounting for over forty years. “She didn’t really get to enjoy her retirement,” Lester says. “She started having a variety of symptoms and we saw doctors all over Dayton and could not find out what was wrong. Then we went to the Cleveland Clinic where they determined she had hydrocephalus.” No one knows what causes hydrocephalus, sometimes called “water on the brain.” Symptoms can be similar to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses. Once they had a diagnosis and began treatment, Lester said his mother improved.
Lester moved away from Dayton in 2007 and his mother relocated to New Orleans two years ago to live with her sister, Vanessa. Lester was able to visit his mom frequently in New Orleans, and over time became worried that she was declining. “I am so grateful to my Aunt. She gave of herself to allow me an opportunity to chase my dream. But there is no way my Aunt and I could provide all that my mother needed. I could not let her die alone.”
When his mother was hospitalized in New Orleans, Lester heard the doctors say there was nothing more they could do, and it brought him to tears. That’s when he decided he had to get her back to Dayton. This was to be more of a challenge than he anticipated.
Caregivers in New Orleans felt his mother was not up to a trip of nearly over 12 hours and nearly 900 miles. But Lester insisted. “This is what my mother needs.”
Annie’s foresight made Lester’s decision easier. She had invested in long-term care insurance that enabled excellent options for her care. Lester found an ambulance service that could provide transportation. He learned of Grace Brethren Village through a friend from high school who works in healthcare. When he visited Grace Brethren he found the staff to be open and nice. He liked the fact it was small and felt it would be a good place for his mother. The ambulance trip was difficult, but his mom “was a trooper,” says Lester. He was so happy to get her home in December of 2016 just before Christmas.
With care at Grace Brethren and support from Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton, Annie’s condition has improved. He is grateful that her insurance enables her care to be covered, but is concerned about what happens if the insurance is exhausted. “It’s a real concern for anyone in this position,” Lester says.
Lester visits every day, sometimes not knowing what to say to his mother, not sure what she understands. He wishes for the times they used to share, remembering when they would travel together, “She loved the song HAPPY. I would play The Temptations for her and we’d both sing along.”
He has found a new community of friends among others who share the same responsibilities for loved ones whose health is failing. “All of my friends are going through the same thing,” says Lester. “I try to support them because I know caregiving can be a lonely job.” He can share what he has learned about dementia and its symptoms, and what steps legally and financially can be taken to ensure the best care for someone you love.
“There was no book for me to learn this from,” Lester says. “If my journey can be of help to others I am happy to share it.”