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Juana Martinez Posted: October 5, 2015

Sharing the Caring: A Latina Daughter Receives Help From NorthBay Hospice

In a modest, cozy Vacaville ranch house that smells of fresh herbs, powders and aromatic lotions, Juana Martinez sleeps. The 98-year old native of El Salvador has been bedridden for a number of years, and in her final chapter of life, has come to the home of her daughter Cecilia Vega.

Vega's dedication to her mother has been her main focus almost without respite, for the past decade. Cecilia, 57, is the youngest daughter in her traditional Salvadorian family. As expected in her culture, she is the one who is designated to wash, feed, tend wounds and give constant care and comfort to her mother for as long as it takes. But now, breaking with tradition, she is receiving help. That help comes from NorthBay Hospice & Bereavment's team of doctors, nurses and volunteers.

"It's very typical in Latino families that either the youngest or oldest daughter is in charge of caring for their elderly parents," explains NorthBay Hospice & Bereavement volunteer coordinator Veronica Wertz, who is also of Latin descent. She says that one of the most difficult challenges for women in Cecilia's position is to accept assistance with her mother's care. "It takes a lot for someone who gives that much to let someone else take part," she says. "It's a kind of cultural leap to admit that you need assistance."

Because of all that was expected of her, Cecilia's remembers feelings of fatigue, depression and desperation until Dr. Kathryn Amacher, a private practice physician specializing in geriatrics, began to talk with her about all that could be done to lift some of the heavy burden of full-time home care (including Cecilia's literal burden of lifting and carrying of her mother!). "I saw how caring and kind the NorthBay Hospice nurses were, and it was great to know my mother was okay and I could relax a little and let them take over for awhile."

Dr Amacher also pointed out that the NorthBay Hospice & Bereavement team helps caregivers to become more confident with providing for the special needs of their dying loved ones, and offers a much important break. "It's so easy for the caregiver to get burned out-particularly someone as conscientious as Cecilia," she says. "She's really an angel-an amazing, giving daughter. But, if she doesn't get time to rest, take full care of her family and herself, she's not going to be able to sustain it. And, I'm sure her mother wouldn't want her to wear herself out and not have any joy in living her own life."

Gently stroking her mother's cropped hair, Cecilia tells stories about Juana's life as a loving mother and gourmet cook in El Salvador. She remembers that the meals created and skillfully served were so wonderful that Juana worked for a wealthy family as their personal chef for a number of years. A photo taken of her mother over 70 years ago shows an exotic beauty, with high cheekbones, slightly almond-shaped eyes and a shiny cascade of caramel-colored hair. Cecilia says Juana was healthy and energetic well into her older years, always ready to cook her famous chili rellenos and gather the family together. Those days are, sadly, gone.

NorthBay Hospice & Bereavement officials say that those who give care to their ill loved ones need to discuss and face the inevitability of the end of life. "Families really need to talk to their doctors-or call hospice directly," says Dr. Amacher. "Who wants to talk about death or dying? But it is a reality, and it should start with an honest discussion about when hospice care is needed."

Wertz adds that she hopes other women will do what Cecilia has done and find new ways they can accept much-needed help. "Most the women of all cultures I talk with who are mothers say they are not raising their daughters to give up everything just to care for them at the end. They want them to have a freer life. We gently encourage them to think of themselves to be just as important to the family as their children are-and to seek help from hospice when they want help caring for their loved ones at home. Many of them are surprised to learn that they or their loved ones don't have to be a patient of NorthBay to receive our services-and it's free."

Juana Martinez's family members were recipients of NorthBay Hospice & Bereavement's Dream of a Lifetime program that grants wishes of the terminally ill. For Juana's dream, her family gathered at Cecilia's home and treated to a several-course, catered Salvadorian meal, similar to what their mother used to prepare. Find out more about this special program and its rules and guidelines.