- Associated Press - Sunday, May 25, 2014

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) - Opal Adkisson’s closest relatives are her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“I’ve lost both sons and my husband,” Adkisson, 88, of Jonesboro, said. “In 1988, my son brought me over here to care for me, and I lost him in ‘08.”

Her loss has led her to helping other Craighead County residents who are the primary caregivers for their terminally ill loved ones. She, along with Ellie Miller, 69, and Joan Lunsford, 81, are known affectionately as “The Red Ladies.”

The work began two-and-a-half years ago when Adkisson’s granddaughter told her they needed volunteers at Home Health Professionals and Hospice Inc. While unsure at first, the 88-year-old agreed to help along with two of her church friends, Ellie Miller, 69, and Joan Lunsford, 81.

Lunsford has lost a son, a veteran who earned a Purple Heart, in January while Miller was the primary caregiver for her late husband after he experienced complications from diabetes. It took time for Miller to adjust following his death in 2006.

Volunteer coordinator Robyn Carter said the women realized that they could relate to the situation after learning more about the company, which provides home health care and hospice services in Northeast Arkansas and two Missouri counties. The trio also underwent eight hours of volunteer training.

“At our age, it has really blessed us because we get to talk to the people and help,” Lunsford told The Jonesboro Sun (https://bit.ly/1tkuzhJ), adding that it also gets them out of the house.

The volunteers work every other Wednesday to help the company with paperwork and visit Craighead County caregivers and, if allowed, their terminally ill patients.

“(Their personal loss) helps us because we know what they are going through,” Adkisson said. “We can give them the encouragement they need because they need all the encouragement they can get.”

Miller said the ones they visit mostly need someone to listen, give them a hug and say “call me if you need me.”

But, their work doesn’t stop there. Carter said the women once gave a local caregiver his first birthday cake for his 57th birthday.

It’s a small gesture, but the company’s owner Susan Carter said it is the small things that volunteers do that can brighten a caregiver’s or hospice patient’s day.

Adkisson said the work has made them realize the heartaches other people are going through.

“One lady couldn’t talk to us because she was crying continuously,” she added. “We knew what she was going through, so we just let her cry it out.”

The woman was one of their first caregivers they visited more than two years ago. Adkisson said they still keep in touch today.

Their first visit was to a man whose wife had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“We had no idea what we were in for. She passed away,” Adkisson said, adding that she recently ran into the man at a local store. “He came up behind me and said, ‘I’ll never forget how much your visit meant to me. I’ll never forget it.’”

The trio makes the visits together with Carter serving as their driver. Carter said she still hasn’t forgotten the help the women gave to one woman, who was struggling following the death of her husband.

What started as a bereavement visit turned into regular visits where the trio kept encouraging her to attend the company’s annual hospice memorial recognizing loved ones who have died in the past year. She eventually agreed.

“You could see a turning point,” Carter said, adding that the woman became more involved outside of her home. Later, “she wanted to thank them for just listening to her.”

___

Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, https://www.jonesborosun.com


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