Jeff Manes: Woman’s life path leads her to work as a caregiver
June 4, 2013 12:08PM
Updated: July 6, 2013 6:05AM
“Our scars make us know that our past was for real.”
— Jane Austen
April Dillingham, 52, lives in Valparaiso with Mark, her husband of 35 years. She is the faithful caregiver who tends to Patricia Ledderboge, the wise woman featured in Sunday’s column.
I first met Dillingham at Marti’s Place, a restaurant in Jasper County on the Kankakee River, where she had taken Ledderboge out to lunch on her 86th birthday.
“I lived in Jackson Township most of my childhood and graduated from Chesterton High School,” Dillingham began.
What made you decide to become a caregiver?
“I had pretty much taken care of people my entire life. My mother died of ovarian cancer when I was 16. I’ve had several relatives who have died of cancer. My grandmother stayed with me for a while.
“I have an old school friend who was a visiting nurse and started a business of her own taking care of people. I had turned her down several times because I thought I was done doing that sort of thing. After my children were raised, I decided to take her up on it. I had time on my hands; my husband is an over-the-road trucker who owns his own rig.”
Was Patricia your first client?
“No, I’ve had a few others. When I was offered the opportunity of taking care of Pat, I was told she was terminal.”
How long ago was that?
“About 18 months ago. When I came here, she was very sick. But I was able to take her to the doctor and wherever she needed to be.”
What kind of hours do you work?
“I’ll be here 10 days, then be off four. I’m with Pat from about 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. We have become great friends. She’s more than just a position for me. Pat is such an amazing woman. She’s a master gardener who loves wildlife and art.”
Pat is quite a piece of work; I like her, too.
“She really enjoys correcting my grammar. She can’t help it; it’s the teacher in her. And she’s very encouraging as far as my photography.”
Please, tell me about that.
“I’ve gone from just taking snapshots to having my work shown at places like Southern Shore Art Gallery in Michigan City. Every summer by the lake, I also have a little booth at Riverside Market in Michigan City. It’s really a neat place filled with all types of artisans.”
Any examples of your photography that I could take a look at?
“Right there on Pat’s wall. I do sand portraits. That photo is an all-natural macro-shot. You probably would’ve walked on it, but I see things like how the wind and sand make different kinds of formations. Sometimes water and shadows are mixed in.”
To me, that looks like a sinewy black panther curled up in the limb of a tree.
“It’s actually a heart, but that’s the beauty of these things, everybody can see something different.”
Well, you certainly live in a great area to do sand portraits.
“I go to Beverly Shores and the Dunes a lot. What makes all this so special for me is the fact that I weighed close to 300 pounds about three years ago. I couldn’t walk in the sand; I had double-knee arthritis. I want to walk Mackinaw Bridge in September. When I went to the doctor, he kind of chuckled at me and said I couldn’t do it. He said I’d be crippled.”
Will you heed your doctor’s advice?
“That’s all I needed to hear was that I couldn’t do it. I set my mind to losing weight and I’ve almost got it off. I still have a few pounds to go.”
How much weight did you lose?
“Almost 130 pounds. Now I can walk and I can shoot pictures. It was just a beautiful thing to finally put my feet in the sand and walk up and down the Dunes without tears.”
I’m sure it was. Come September, let me know when you’ve crossed that bridge.
April, it’s heartwarming to witness the bond between you and your elderly friend. She told me that you have become the daughter she never had.
“Jeff, the Lord has truly blessed me by putting Pat in my life.”
Terminal patients don’t usually last 18 months. Maybe what the former English teacher and the caregiver who lost her mother at 16 have together is the most powerful medicine of all.