Caring for a senior loved one is the most important opportunity you could have

Missy Jenner of Grand Rapids was inspired by her strong relationship with her grandparents to become a professional senior caregiver –  a career that would span more than 40 years.

Missy remembers her grandmother’s perseverance and dedication to fighting cancer and becoming a great cook regardless of her circumstances.

“My grandma had her right arm amputated due to cancer, but she never let it stop her,” Missy said. “She was an incredible baker and cook and she continued to roll out pie crust even though she only had half of a right arm.”

Missy, 61, grew up in Maple Lake, a small town 55 miles west of the Twin Cities. Her caregiving career started in high school as a candy striper volunteer at the Buffalo Memorial Hospital. Candy stripers would wear pink and white jumpers as they helped where extra assistance was needed at the hospital.

“We would go around with the juice carts and snack carts,” Missy said. “And we would write letters for people that were in the hospital and visit with them.”

After graduation, Missy became a nurse aid at Ebenezer in Buffalo and at Pioneer Home in Fergus Falls. Later, she worked as nurse at Evergreen Terrace, a long-term care facility in Grand Rapids, and in 2000, she became one of the main footcare nurses in Itasca County.

“I was checking their feet for any problematic things that could occur,” says Missy.

Missy’s father developed Alzheimer’s six years before she became the Itasca County Footcare Nurse, making her mother his primary caregiver. Missy understood the importance of self-care and ensured her mom did, too.

“It was a tough time for her and dad,” Missy recalled. “It was then that I made sure she wasn’t overdoing it. I’d call my mom every day.”

Missy’s father passed away from Alzheimer’s in 2000. That’s when Missy started caring for her mother on a regular basis. “It often became three to four times a week that I would come over with a packed bag to stay,” Missy said.

From left to right: Missy, Missy’s mother and Missy’s sister, Cindy.

Fortunately, Missy had the help of her older sister, Cindy, who was the power of attorney for their mom. Cindy was able to help with their mom’s financials and daily chores and spent time with their mom when Missy couldn’t.

“She would find time to get over there and color her hair and help her clean her apartment,” Missy said.

Missy also received help from community resources, including the Aicota Health Care Center, an organization dedicated to providing healthcare resources and services to the residents of Aitkin County.

“They are an advocate for aging people and caregivers,” says Missy. “Whatever I needed, they had it for me. They always asked — what can we do to help you?”

Missy’s advice to family members who are beginning to care for aging family members is to make sure you’re taking care of yourself and to appreciate the moments you have with your loved ones.

“You cannot take care of them if you aren’t taking care of yourself too,” said Missy. “Realize that what you’re doing now is one of the most important blessings and opportunities you will have.”

Missy’s mom passed away on January 16, 2015, and she treasures every moment she spent caring for her mom during the final years of her life, even the challenging ones.

Missy holds her mother’s hand during her final days.

“The uncomfortable chairs, the hospital noises and sleeping with one eye (open) – I wouldn’t change a thing,” Missy said. “It was my honor.”

Due to her arthritis, Missy has stopped working as a professional nurse, but that hasn’t stopped her from doing the things she loves.

“I don’t let my arthritis get to me. I got a long way to go,” Missy said. “My husband and I are talking about zip lining in Vegas.”

Today, she’s a part-time realtor and stays involved by volunteering in areas where she can follow her passion and serve seniors. She visits a long-term care center twice a month and teaches classes to seniors on affordable housing and how to downsize.

“The important thing is to hold on to the fact that you need to do whatever you can, while you can,” Missy said. “You won’t regret it in the long run.”

Andrea Magaña is a regulator contributor to Face Aging MN. If you want to reach her or have any questions, you can reach us at info@faceagingmn.org. Have your own story to share? We’d love to hear from you.

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