Israel Says She’d Do It All Again, In a Heartbeat

POSTED: April 17, 2018

Alma “Sis” Kincaid was only 55 when doctors told her it was no longer safe for her to live alone. She would leave the stove on or burn potpourri and forget until the pot was scalded. The family knew something had to be done.  Darla Israel, one of Kincaid’s seven children, decided she would become her mom’s full-time caregiver. That was 24 years ago.

“My mom is my mom, and you only get but one,” Israel said.

Israel received CICOA’s 2018 Caregiver of the Year Award on Wednesday, April 18, during the nonprofit’s ninth annual Signature Breakfast. The award honors a personal caregiver in Central Indiana who models courage, sacrifice, strength and creativity while caring for another.

When the call came for help, Israel was recently divorced and raising two young sons alone. They lived about 20 minutes from her mom, who had a mobile home in Portland, Tenn.

“I talked to my boys, and I told them, we’re moving in with my mom. They were happy about it,” she said.

For the next 24 years, Israel cared for her mother, who suffered from Friedreich’s ataxia, a rare inherited disease that causes nervous system damage and movement problems. About four years after moving in with her mom, Kincaid told her daughter she wanted to move back to their hometown of Indianapolis to be closer to other family members. Israel bought a house near Fountain Square.

With help from neighbors and family, they planted a flower garden decorated with numerous wind chimes that were among Kincaid’s most cherished gifts. Life as a caregiver was hectic, though, she recalled.  Israel was balancing caring for her mom and raising two sons. She also volunteered at their school.

“Darla is not just a caregiver full of compassion, love and dedication, but she is a hero,” wrote Miranda Brickley, Israel’s niece, in a letter nominating her for CICOA’s Caregiver of the Year Award. “Someone who because ‘life happened’ grew strong, took courage in herself and found that life presents us the greatest gifts when we make ourselves, by our actions and deeds, a gift to others.”

Israel never imagined herself as a caregiver.

“I realized the care I was giving—by giving Mom her shots, changing and bathing her, and doing therapy with her—these were things I never imagined having the strength to do,” Israel said. “The strength I found in myself and the love I felt for my mother got me through the difficult parts and surprised me.”

As Kincaid’s conditioned worsened (there is no cure or treatment for Friedreich’s ataxia) Israel realized she needed help. About eight years ago, Kincaid spent several months in the hospital and became bedridden. When she was released back to Israel’s care, a nurse referred her to CICOA.

“I called and said, ‘I don’t know what you can do for me, but I need help,’” Israel recalls. “CICOA helped me get aides and nurses. They helped me with meals. My care manager helped me with everything. Without CICOA, I was totally lost.”

CICOA also funded a home modification to make their bathroom handicapped accessible. Meanwhile, Israel worked with her mom to help her build back strength so eventually, she could move again from one room to another with a walker.

Kincaid died last fall at the age of 79. While Israel said there are challenges to being a caregiver, she would do it all over again given the chance.

“In a heartbeat. Just waking up and seeing her smile. That would make my day knowing I did something right,” Israel said. “It made by day, because she was happy.”

It was good for her sons, too, Israel said, and helped them develop empathy for others who are struggling. One day she knows she may need to lean on her children, because like her mother and her four sisters, she also has Friedreich’s ataxia. She takes it all in stride though, and says the key to being a caregiver is very simple.

“Have a kind heart,” she said. “That’s what my mom always told me.”


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