The end of the line

Everyone can expect to die someday. What we may not expect — but which is almost as likely — is that we will end up taking care of someone who is dying.

Edneyville resident Martha I. Clyburn has been a caretaker for at least five sick and dying loved ones since the 1970s. Along the way, she's gathered lots of information about dealing with the process — both as a caregiver and from the point of view of the incapacitated person.

To put her knowledge to good use, Clyburn has written Toward Better Days, a 76-page book aimed at offering help and inspiration to those who suddenly find themselves thrown into the caregiver role.

"After I took care of my sister and mother when they were dying, my significant other said, 'You really should write this all down,'" Clyburn recalls. "Then he got sick and died, but he came back and haunted me about it. I felt strongly that I really needed to do this, so I sat down last winter and did it."

A former social worker, Clyburn moved with her husband, Bill Rector, to the Henderson County town of Edneyville from Helen, Ga., in 1996. After his death in 1998, she spent a few years mulling over the idea of writing the book, but only recently decided it was something she had to do.

Toward Better Days combines information and what Clyburn calls "whimsy," including poems the author penned and photographs she took. The meat of the book, however, consists of forms: medication schedules, personal information and medical-history charts, medical-diary page and emergency contacts, to name a few.

"Every situation is different, but the forms are pretty much consistent," Clyburn says. "When someone gets sick, often people don't know where legal papers are or what's required. This book puts all that in one place."

Clyburn notes that even people who aren't ill could use the book as a place to keep important medical information in the event that they do become sick or incapacitated.

"People who are stressed don't have time to find all this information," she says. "Anyone can fill in the information on themselves and keep it in a place where it's easy to find."

While most of the forms in the book are self-explanatory, Clyburn says she really likes the medical-diary form. The idea is that a caregiver who is in the hospital with a patient can take notes on the patient's status and share them with visitors and even doctors.

"It dawned on me that when people come visit sick people, they want to know how the patient is progressing, and I could just hand them my notebook," Clyburn says, referring to her medical diary. "Everybody loved it. Even the doctor came in and looked at it and said, 'You take better notes than my nurses.'"

She also shares tips for helping people who are ill with issues such as administering proper medications.

"Older people can get their medications all mixed up," she says. "I came up with a calendar, but the big thing I came up with was to color-code bottle tops. So I use a permanent marker and mark the bottle caps with something like blue for medications to take at night, and red for morning."

Clyburn says she's been truly inspired by a quotation from former first lady Rosalynn Carter that reads: "There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, those who will need caregivers."

Clyburn self-published Toward Better Days in November. The book, which retails at $17.95, is sold on Amazon, at The Open Door Christian Bookstore in Hendersonville and via Clyburn's website ( She also hopes to sell the book in hospital bookstores and other places where people in need can easily find it.

"This is my purpose in life and kind of my ministry now," Clyburn says.

Anne Fitten Glenn is an Xpress contributing writer, who also pens the Edgy Mama column and the biweekly Brews News.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.