Caregiver Yvonne Keitt (left)is seen with her brother Larry Jenkins and parents Ophelia and Isaiah Jenkins. (Photo courtesy of Yvonne Keitt)

Caregiver Yvonne Keitt (left)is seen with her brother Larry Jenkins and parents Ophelia and Isaiah Jenkins. (Photo courtesy of Yvonne Keitt)

by Constance Garcia-Barrio

When Isaiah Jenkins was 88, he fell down the steps with such force that his nose had to be reconstructed. “We don’t know if he tripped when he got up to fix himself a snack during the night,” says his daughter Yvonne Keitt, 64, of Mt. Airy, “but mom found him at the foot of the steps in the morning.”

Her dad’s fall in March, 2011, left him unable to walk and launched Keitt on an odyssey of seeking care for him. Following a stay at Capital Health Systems Hospital in Trenton, N.J., he was moved to Lawrenceville Rehabilitation Center. After discussion with the social worker concerning her parents’ situation, it was determined that the best course of action was to apply for Medicaid and look for a care facility for her father.

“Daddy wanted to return home, but there was no way to add a bathroom downstairs,” Keitt says. “A nurse could have come a few hours a day, but my brother and I wanted more continuous help for him.”

She drew on good memories and her upbringing to steer her through making arrangements for her father and meeting the needs of her mother, who suddenly found herself alone. “My parents were from South Carolina,” Keitt says. “They came to New Jersey to find work, but they instilled values from down home in me: to do my best, keep my word and have faith in God.” Remembering her mother’s wonderful baking helped, too. “Mom used to make delicious jelly cakes, six thin layers of pound cake with apple jelly between them.”

She saw nice nursing homes, but sought one to suit her father’s taste. “He’s not a silk-and-chandeliers man,” says Keitt, who began driving over from Philadelphia to take her mother on errands. “He likes clean and comfortable.”

Keitt’s designation as agent under Power of Attorney (POA) for her father through the POA document he authorized years earlier simplified matters. But doing the paperwork, checking out facilities and working a full-time job overwhelmed her. “I’d planned to work to age 65, but I retired at 62, nine months after Daddy’s fall,” says Keitt, whose career in banking had centered on credit cards and installment loans.

After retiring, Keitt needed part-time work. She learned about job opportunities at My Way, a not-for-profit organization headquartered in Mt. Airy that handles housekeeping, personal care and more for Northwest Philadelphians ages 55 and older. “I do transportation,” says Keitt, who has two daughters and three grandchildren living in Florida. “I take people to the doctor’s office and other places. I needed part-time work that let me continue helping my mother.

“Is my father’s situation a challenge? At times, yes. Do I have regrets? No. He did his best for my brother and me, and now we’re returning the favor.”

Keitt offers wisdom she’s gained from the experience.

• Prepare a POA document while your parents can express their wishes clearly. “It let me obtain information that only my father would have received otherwise,” says Keitt.

• Accept help and encouragement. Friends can see you through when you feel you can’t go on.

• Do the best you can. Don’t push for perfection.

Mt. Airy resident freelance writer Constance Garcia-Barrio taught Spanish for many hears at West Chester University. This article was reprinted, with permission, from Milestones, the publication of the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.