A Caregiver's Story

A Caregiver's Story

A Balancing Act 
by Alexander Johnson, Contributing Writer 

Full-time employment, parenting a teen and caring for her elderly mother are part of Tamala Newsome’s daily routine 

What would you do if you found out that you’d have to rearrange your life to take care of an elderly parent? What and how would you be willing to sacrifice? What might you gain? Tamala Newsome and her mother, Jaunita Woods, have been answering these questions ever since Tamala and her husband Karl became Jaunita’s caregivers a year and a half ago.

Jaunita Woods moved to Portland around 1945 to work in the Kaiser  shipyards. Originally from Oklahoma, she made a home in Portland and has stayed here ever since.

Two years ago, Jaunita began to show signs of memory loss. Tamala and Karl arranged for her to move into an apartment directly below their own. When Jaunita was officially diagnosed with dementia, she moved in with Tamala and Karl. Yet with full-time jobs and a nineteen year-old son still living at home, they knew they needed help caring for Jaunita.

Tamala and Karl were referred to the Marie Smith Center where Jaunita could spend the day while they were at work. This arrangement would provide respite for Tamala and Karl while also keeping Jaunita in the community that has been her home for over 60 years.

"My niece visited the Center and was really impressed," Tamala remembers.

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, their day starts well before sunrise. Tamala lays out Jaunita’s clothes and prepares her breakfast. They’re on the road by 6:30, drop Juanita off and then drive to their jobs. Jaunita spends the day in the compassionate environment of the Marie Smith Center, where her health is monitored and she can socialize, participate in art and music therapy, and enjoy the stimulation of a caring community.

After work Karl and Tamala pick Jaunita up from the Marie Smith Center and drive her home. Then it’s dinner, rest, and preparation for tomorrow. It makes for a busy life, but Tamala takes the challenges of caregiving in stride.

"She’s my mom," Tamala says. "Where else would she be?" Tamala is doing for Jaunita what Jaunita once did for her, and the Marie Smith Center makes it possible. 

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