Caregiver Honor Roll: Holly Bacon

The Caregiver Honor Roll pays homage to family caregivers, such as Holly Bacon.

Caregiving situation

Holly Bacon takes care of her parents in Waupaca County, Wisconsin. Her 83-year-old mother, Alice, is a 37-year cancer survivor who suffers from dementia. Her 88-year-old father, Lewis, suffers from COPD and has had a few debilitating strokes in the last year. As their medical power of attorney, Holly shares responsibilities for her parents with her older sister, Mary, who holds financial power of attorney, and they're supported by two other siblings, Michael and Heather, from a distance. "My sister and brother show support by calling frequently -- something the folks really look forward to, even if they don't remember it the next day! They also travel here from Arizona and Montana when they're able," says Holly.

In March 2011, after Alice was unable to manage responsibilities associated with her own and Lewis's care, Holly and her siblings decided that moving to assisted living would be the best option for their parents. "My husband and I are active dairy farmers, and as such we have limited time to be involved in their lives," says Holly. "I'm very fortunate that they're in assisted living, where I know they're being cared for and have a beautiful place to live."

Biggest caregiving challenges

The struggle to keep Alice from getting behind the wheel has been one of the biggest caregiving challenges Holly and her siblings have faced. After several mini-strokes, which contributed to sporadic lapses of memory from dementia, it was clear that it was time for Alice to stop driving.

"It would take only one moment for a life-changing accident to occur. And yes, that can happen to any of us, at any given time -- she just had a few more cards stacked against her," Holly says. "She pretty much went down kicking on that one. However, once the car was sold, we heard no more about driving. Exhale."

Finding and placing her parents into an assisted living home was also a difficult task for Holly and her siblings. After Alice started having difficulty managing Lewis's medications, Holly and her siblings sought assisted living facilities suitable for their lifestyle and care needs.

"We moved my folks into assisted living last March, and while it wasn't an easy thing to do, it was the right thing to do," she says. "Are they happy? Not all the time. Have they adjusted? Pretty well. Do they know we still love them? Absolutely! And that's the most important thing to remember. We try to steer away from feeling guilty here. Most often, when the decision to place a loved one is made, all other avenues have been explored and turned down."

To help other family caregivers with this difficult decision, Holly has shared their positive experience by posting a review of their assisted living community in's Senior Living Directory. "We helped the folks move into this facility in March 2011. It is bright, clean, cheery -- great staff, lots to do, beautiful setting," she wrote.

Since their parents filed a quitclaim deed on their home in 2000, Holly and her siblings have been in charge of all legal and financial responsibilities associated with it. When Alice and Lewis moved into assisted living, their adult children began to face the challenge of cleaning out their home and preparing it for the housing market. "My parents have been married for 64 years this June, and there's a lifetime of memories and 'stuff.' Sorting is a daunting task, and there are emotional tags on just about everything in their home," Holly says. "This feels like something we should be doing after they're gone, not while they are very much with us. And they want nothing to do with the process, so it is mostly left to my older sister and me, who are the local ones. Fun . . . not."

Emotional journey

Often, adult children taking care of their parents are faced with the challenge of role reversal, where the child becomes the parent and the parent becomes the child. "I truly hate having to tell the folks something that they don't want to hear, such as, 'It's time to sell the house,'" Holly says.

Due to her profession, Holly's time is also compromised. "Life on the farm moves quickly. I spend long hours in the tractor, helping with the fieldwork. That is one of the reasons that I'm very grateful to have one of my siblings close by, even if we do lock horns sometimes." community

Holly is known on as "Gatfly," which stands for "Grandma at the Farm Loves You," and she says she "stumbled" across when searching the Internet for information on caregiving. "I was trying to find answers to questions that hadn't even properly formed in my mind," she says. Since joining the in July 2011, Holly has become the most active member of the community, contributing more than 12,000 comments in her Stage Group, a support group for Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers. "Just lately, we've started celebrating what we call our 'angelversaries' -- the anniversary of the date we found," she says. "All the references about angels on our Stage Group pretty much started from sharing a quote, 'We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another,' from Lucretius. That pretty much says it, doesn't it?"

Holly has received a breadth of support, including camaraderie, genuine friendships, humor, advice, commiseration, prayer, and more than the occasional laugh. She describes the respect and admiration she feels for fellow caregivers on "I've often asked myself if I could do the 24/7 care that I see so many on the site dealing with. I honestly don't know. I admire their courage, stamina, and their human-ness," she says. "Their ingenuity for dealing with the curveballs they're thrown, on a daily -- no, make that hourly -- basis is phenomenal. But my favorite part? The humor they find in their lives. It is so very necessary for us to find the humor, laugh, and then get on with living."

Tips for other caregivers

Holly's caregiving tips include:

Treat your loved ones the same way you did as before they had dementia. When caring for a parent, the role of parent and child changes as parents become more dependent on their children for healthcare. "It's so hard to see your parent, who was dignified and respectable, all of a sudden take on the characteristics of a spoiled toddler. How to handle it?" asks Holly. "Treat your loved ones with the love and respect that you did before they started their decline. Laugh together whenever you can," she says.

It's okay to feel negative emotions, temporarily. Caregivers go through a gamut of emotions throughout their caregiving journey: anger, sadness, loneliness, overwhelm. "We've all been there," says Holly. "Just don't stay there!"

Don't allow guilt any time or consideration. Caregivers often face feelings of guilt when making decisions for their loved ones. Given her own caregiving experience, Holly advises other members to let go of guilt. "You have to do what is right for you and your loved one -- no one else can make that decision for you," she says.

It's easier said than done."All of this is much easier to talk about than to do, as I'm finding out with my parents' progression," Holly says. "At least I'm more prepared from having exposure to those in Stage Groups with more experience. Thank you all!"

Favorite song, book, or movie shared with loved one

Holly's parents enjoy old hymns. She explains, "When my dad was in the hospital, following his first stroke, he was having a rough night. My mom and I sat on either side of his bed. She held his hand, and I sang every song I could remember the words to -- hymns, folk songs, old melodies. I sang for a couple of hours. The man who was having trouble enunciating his words sang along with old favorites like 'Amazing Grace,'" Holly says. "It was almost magical, there in the wee hours of the morning."

We hope you'll share your supportive comments with Holly below, or send her a virtual hug or prayer via her profile.


about 6 years, said...

Holly, Congratulations on all the help you give to others and for being recognized in So many of us are all going through the same thing. I wish you the best with both of your parents. Much happiness to you and your loved ones.

about 6 years, said...

@ TCV - let me know when you are in the area and we'll see what we can work out. ♥ Yeah, the line about the 12,000 comments is why I can't share this with my husband. LOL But then I figured that every ♥ and every "hug" = a post, and I do that frequently to show solidarity if I have nothing constructive to add. Sometimes we are just looking for validation of our feelings....♥ @PeachPlumNectarine [am I right?] yes! I am lucky to not be doing this alone - I have my sibs AND all the OWA's on this site! Wow - 99! That is something, isn't it? Hugs to you and Mom! ♥

about 6 years, said...

You are so lucky that you are not in this alone. I am a caregiver for my 99 year old Mother. We live together and some time I feel so isolated. She is starting to fail just from age and it is so hard now. I do have help at night so I can sleep.

about 6 years, said...

CONGRATULATIONS on being featured Holly! How do you find the time to post 12,000 comments and maintain a farm in WI while being a caregiver? That's what I wanna know! SMILE I am putting together plans to be just north of you at the end of October. Maybe we can meet if all plans fall in place. I would love to toast you with "REAL" Wisconsin Milk!

about 6 years, said...

Congratulations, Holly. Thank you for your tips in this article. Best wishes to you, your folks and your loved ones. <3

about 6 years, said...

OOPS My comment should have been at the bottom, not at the top xxx

about 6 years, said...


about 6 years, said...

Well girls - you did it! I'm speechless! LOL ♥ Back atcha!

about 6 years, said...

My Dearest Holly/Gatfly, You are so deserving of this Honor...You bring so much to Our Family of OWA's with your thoughtfulness; compassion; empathy; encouragement; comfort; support; friendship; love and most of all your delightful sense of humor that keeps so many of us afloat on a daily basis. Just clicking in and seeing your carefree little stick-girl avatar jumping in the air with her arms spread open wide, brings a smile to my face and makes me chuckle. Your arms are always open, as well as your heart, to all of us all of the time. I'm proud to call you my sistah-angel, my friend ♥ Your like a gift that I've been blessed with that I like to unwrap everyday and be so very grateful for ~ You are a Treasure ♥ Love Ya Much ♥

about 6 years, said...

Holly, so happy for this honour for you. Love your posts. Love and hugs. Corry

about 6 years, said...

Holly in my book you are truely an Angel. You deserve this honor, you are a very special person. You have made me laugh when I was down and danced when we had a good day with this disease. And getting to meet you was a very special day for me. Love ya lots Hon, you are VERY SPECIAL.

about 6 years, said...

Couldn't have been given to a more deserving caregiver and angel friend. {{Hugs}} to you dear Holly.

about 6 years, said...

Holly, my dear Friend. No one deserves this Honor more than you. You are always there on the site with a ♥ or a "snort" or comforting words or a new quote and your humor is delightful and refreshing. We need you and love you. And now I've found out how well you write too! When do you find time for the milking, bookkeeping, housekeeping, visiting your parents, field work? And having fun with grandkids. Such energy! in a very talented gal. She takes beautiful photographs too, folks, and is a nature lover. A well-deserved tribute to a hard-working woman. Love, Piver/Patty

about 6 years, said...

Holly you really are a very special person. Since I have been a part of this group I have learned a bundle from you! Mainly to smile more, to laugh more, no matter what the situation is you always give an encouraging word. I thank you. ♥ You deserve the honor of being on the honor roll. ♥ Love and Hugs ♥ Becca13

about 6 years, said...

Hurrah for Holly ! You so deserve to be on this Honour Roll....thank you for all that you have done to encourage me,cheer me up,empathize with me .....and you make me think with all those quotes !!! Love you lots and lots ♥♥♥