The moment I began bathing my mother, washing places on her body I never saw up-close and personal (the vaginal area), I knew I was in deep! I turned her over gently and washed her buttocks, and I remember her looking up at me from the bed with a little sadness and crying gently. When I asked her what was wrong, she quietly answered, “I can’t wash myself anymore. I feel so helpless.”
I looked at her and smiled as I assured her, “Mom, as a small child, you washed me when I couldn’t wash myself. So I am just returning the favor.” My mother is 98 years old—and counting, and with God’s grace and favor, I am her full-time caregiver.
I am from New York; I moved to Atlanta to work at an advertising agency which did not make it, so I started my own public relations consulting business out of my apartment. When I left my mom in New York to move to Georgia and start my own firm, the flexibility and freedom it afforded me enabled me to travel back and forth. I could visit my mom at any time and stay for long stretches because I could work from anywhere with just a computer and a cell phone. It was a perfect setup. Then my mom started having mobility issues, and her sister suggested that I bring her to Georgia to live with me.
When mom moved to Georgia to live with me in 2005, she was having issues with her hip and legs. She was not able to move around easily without using a cane, which blew my mind because I did not—could not imagine my mother walking around with a cane for support. After a time, her hip became more inflamed and the decision to have a hip replacement became the ideal choice to end her pain. After surgery, the pain left, but her ability to move around was hampered.
As the years progressed, Mom’s health began to deteriorate. She suffered with diabetes, hypertension, neuropathy, and the ultimate insult, kidney failure, which led to dialysis treatment. My business slowed to a halt, and my attention became focused on my mother and her health. I was not prepared for giving up major portions of my life to care for her.
My life was no longer my own, it belonged to my mother 24/7. I felt trapped. When you become a caregiver, it never really hits you that the life and/or lifestyle you enjoyed before no longer exists. Now, I had to attend to her needs. Here was a woman who had always been independent, and I am bathing her, dressing her, pushing her around in a wheelchair, making doctors’ appointments, cooking meals endlessly, and some nights not getting any sleep at all because of her pain and anxieties. I was a wreck. I did not know if I could do it.
I am an only child, independent in my fashion; I have no husband or children, but I enjoy traveling and doing what I like to do when I want to do it. All of that had disappeared and I was bitter for a time. I love my mother, no mistaking that reality, but my social life had ended, and placing her in a nursing home was not (never) an option. My mother continued to spend a lot of time in and out of the hospitals, and gradually, I began to settle into my new role. Reality kicked in. Doctors, therapists, dialysis…this was my world.
Today, I am proud of my role as my mother’s caregiver. It gives me pleasure to take care of her needs and to make sure she is comfortable, loved, and safe. The road in the beginning was bumpy because I really did not have an idea of what taking care of an elderly parent does to you physically, emotionally, and psychologically. I have not had a vacation since God knows when. I rarely get out to be with friends, and when I do, it’s as if I have just discovered America and the three-martini lunch!
As a caregiver, I must be careful and mindful of my own health and welfare, and it took me a moment to understand this as all my energies were focused on making sure my mother had the things she needed to thrive and be well. But I am learning how to care for me, how to find the time to just be. It is still not easy, but I am all she has, and as long as I can I will care for her.
I remember one time we were relaxing, eating ice cream, and she just stared at me for the longest. Then, through tears, she said softly, “If it was not for you, I would have died already. Thank you, baby, for taking care of me.”
I smiled with tears in my eyes, “Mom, I am just returning the favor.” We fell into each other’s arms and cried. I am proud to be a caregiver.
So, take care—you never know when you’ll really have to. God Bless!