caregiver profile: violet

Family and Faith: Two Pillars of Strength for One Caregiver

Between 6:30 and 7:30 AM every morning, the alarm goes off, and Violet Speights begins her day with prayer. These quiet moments that Violet takes for herself are restorative for the mother of 3. This is the time she cares for herself: reading her Bible and seeking strength. Because for the rest of the day, Violet will be taking care of others.

This is a role that Violet has been playing for her entire life. Back in the 1960s she was attending high school in Jacksonville, Fla., when her mother, then in her 40s, had a stroke. Violet took on a large share of the burden. She helped with her mother’s physical therapy, bathed her, and assisted in preparing meals for the family. “I had that responsibility kind of thrown on me because there was no one else that would take that responsibility,” Violet says. “I felt close to [my mother] and wanted to take care of her and wanted her to get better.” Thankfully, her mother recovered very well, but that would be only the first time Violet was called to take care of someone she loved.

Taking care of people comes naturally to Violet. Active in her church, she ministers to women and children. She is involved with the women’s ministry and the singles ministry. She has been an educator for nearly 20 years, working in early education with children from preschool through third grade. Her children are grown and have moved out of their house, leaving Violet and her husband to share their life together.

THE CALL THAT CHANGED IT ALL

This life was a well-oiled machine, running smoothly until the fall of 2014, when Violet received a call from a hospital in Gainesville, 150 miles southeast of Tallahassee. Her brother Victor had been admitted, the doctor told Violet; he had Stage IV lung cancer, and they didn’t expect he would live much longer than six months.

The caregiver in Violet sprung to life. As luck would have it, Violet was between jobs. She had just completed a post as a reading coach but had not yet begun in a new position. It was a good time to take some time off. And so Violet hopped in the car and drove to Gainesville to see her brother. Victor had been through a messy divorce recently, brought about in part by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that resulted from his service in Vietnam. He was alone, and he was clearly suffering. Violet felt she had no choice but to move him to Tallahassee and take care of him.

“He said, ‘You know, I’m just going to have to lean on your faith, Violet,’” she says. “And so with him saying that, of course, I felt like I cannot just turn my back on him… So I moved him here. That wasn’t something that everybody agreed to. My husband included, didn’t really agree to it, and wasn’t really happy about it. But I felt as though this is my brother and I love him very much. I want him to get better if it’s God’s choice.”

Violet’s husband, a Korean War veteran who also suffers with PTSD, simply could not understand her decision. In his opinion, many other family members could have supported Victor, including Victor’s own children. But Violet didn’t see it that way. “I love my brother, and I wanted him to have the best chance to survive. That was my driving force… My motto is, ‘You do the possible, and God will do the impossible.’ So that’s what we did.”

The process of relocating Victor’s life was relatively simple. When he was discharged from the hospital, with the doctors recommending hospice care, Violet drove him down to Tallahassee. Violet’s husband, still not on board, did not want Victor to move in with them, so they found property the family owned, not too far from Violet’s house, where he could live, and then she set her mind to taking care of her brother.

Violet began each day, as always, with prayer, giving herself the gift of quiet reflection before the phone began ringing. “I realized that if I had a regular job and I was going to get up and go to work every morning, [so] this is how I handled it. I set my alarm clock, and this was my job... And so I got up and I started my day at 8 and I answered all the phone calls, I talked to all the people at the VA [Veteran’s Affairs], I talked to all the people at the hospital, his doctors, his nurses, the pharmacy. I did all of the shopping, and the laundry… And all of that was done in the run of the day, from 8 to 5 or 6 o’clock. Sometimes it would run into 7 or 8.”

She managed Victor’s household, and continued to manage her own. She took care of the grocery shopping, meal preparation, house-cleaning, and laundry—for both homes. She learned to cook for the three of them, investing in two crock pots and putting them on overnight, making meals that would last three to four days. Her husband was mobile and somewhat self-sufficient, which gave her the freedom to spend most of the day with Victor. She took him to his doctor’s appointments, shuttling him back and forth to Gainesville every few weeks for his cancer treatment. She helped him apply for Social Security and VA benefits because he had stopped working when he became sick. The extra money allowed him to hire in-home hospice care, which gave Violet a bit of a reprieve and also helped alleviate some of the financial burden she was facing.

FINDING HELP FOR HERSELF

But she still needed an outlet, and it came through a professor at Florida State University (FSU), who was also a relative and knew Violet could use support. She invited Violet to a luncheon at FSU to learn about Operation Family Caregiver (OFC), is a unique program that provides free and confidential coaching to those who care for service members and veterans. Founded by the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, OFC teaches the kinds of coping skills that Violet was developing on her own. For Violet, while the lessons learned were helpful, the real benefit was having someone to talk to who could understand what she was going through.

“I never really had anybody I could talk to about what I was dealing with...that's what Operation Family Caregiver did for me. It gave me some ears, gave me some listening ears. And that was amazing.”

“I never really had anybody I could talk to about what I was dealing with,” Violet says. “I couldn’t sit down and talk to my husband about it because I’m taking care of him too. I couldn’t sit down and talk to my brother about it because I’m taking care of him. My family did not really understand because they weren’t here with me… So that’s what Operation Family Caregiver did for me. It just gave me some ears, gave me some listening ears. And that was amazing.”

With her OFC coach serving as a sounding board, Violet could let herself relax a bit. Despite the doctor’s predictions, Victor was doing quite well. And seeing Victor’s progress prompted Violet’s husband to come around. “He saw that things were working,” Violet explains.

In the summer of 2017, Victor celebrated his third birthday since his diagnosis. Today, Violet sees him about once a week. She is happy to have more time to spend with her church and her family, but she doesn’t regret the decision she made.

“In the military, when you have to go to war, the soldiers that have to go out there and actually face the enemy, they’re called boots on the ground,” Violet says. “That’s what I thought about – well, I’ve got to be boots on the ground here.”

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

CAREGIVER STORIES

Meet Gina: For years she has taken care of her husband and her family. Now she's finally taking care of herself.

Meet Nikki: She found the strength to support her husband and her family.

Meet Ashley: How an Army wife balances caring for her husband, who struggles with PTSD, and a daughter with special needs.

Meet Breanna: She is a strong woman who fell in love with a Marine. After his injury, she became a caregiver to her husband.

Meet Kristin: She had just a glimpse of the man Matt used to be, and they fell in love. Now, she struggles as his caregiver.

Meet Amber: What do you do when you marry your childhood crush and then find out he's a different man than you once knew?