It seems like the majority of my friends are dealing with aging parents and can take care of them while still working full-time jobs and trying to plan their own retirements. As they try to support their parents and keep them at home, they are unsure of who to turn to and are filled with emotions ranging from sadness to anger at having to switch roles of parent and child.
I know. I was there. When I was 38 years old, my life changed abruptly when my phone rang one Saturday morning. It was my father and he was heartbroken. My mother suffered a devastating brain aneurysm and was taken to the hospital. My 77 year old, perceptive, incredibly active and exuberant mother was seriously ill. I was shocked.
I rushed to the hospital and was even pulled over for speeding along the way. I had watched enough medical programs to know that this was serious and that not many people survive an artery bursting in the brain. But by the grace of God she made it and after the surgery it quickly became clear that her recovery would be very long and uncertain and this is where I come in.
When she woke up after the operation, she could neither walk nor remember the names of her six children. She suffered from expressive aphasia, which is the inability to find the right words. She couldn’t remember what month it was and was as limp as a rag doll. She needed to be fed and was totally dependent on the nurses for her care.
After the shock wore off and he sunk into what we were facing, someone from the family had to step forward and that was me. I had neither husband nor children, and although I had four brothers and one sister, none of them were able or able to take care of me.
So I quit the apartment I lived in about 45 minutes from my parents’ house and while my mother was transferred to a rehab facility, I moved back to my hometown and stayed with my father. There wasn’t even time to think about it or discuss it with family. Mom was sick and she needed help.
It was like I could see the color of my world turning to black and white. Both of my parents had been the rocks of our family. But now my mother could barely communicate and my father, who had recovered from his own health scare of a pulmonary embolism a month earlier; He was frail and barely able to take care of himself.
After two months, my mother finally recovered enough to return home but was still unable to live independently. Her balance was poor and her gait was clumsy. Her choice of words was unconventional and her memory was a godsend cognitively.
But with my dad there I was able to find a job that gave me a lot of flexibility so I could still take her with me to doctor appointments and grocery shopping. And I even found my own apartment, literally down the street from them.
So we settled into a new routine for the next year and settled into our new normal. When I wasn’t selling ads for the local paper, I was taking my mom to physical therapy and doctor’s appointments, cooking meals, doing the laundry, and anything else that needed doing.
But when my father died suddenly, the color that had barely returned was immediately pale, and I had to move in with my mother. I canceled my rent – again – and sold everything but my clothes. My mother, my dog and I would live together for the next 13 years.
My mother’s aneurysm was devastating to me. I think this is the worst thing that will ever happen to me. I felt a sense of sadness for many years because it not only disabled her but also changed her personality. She used to be outgoing with a sense of humor. After that she was flat with little affect. Although part of her personality returned, she was never the same.
Trying to give her the life she would have had if she hadn’t gotten sick became a fixation. She hated staying home alone, so I took her everywhere. We went out to dinner. We would go to Portland or the coast. I would take them shopping and to the mall. She could move as long as she had a cane and me to hold on to. It got to the point that walking alone anywhere felt strange. It felt like my siamese twin had been amputated.
For the next decade we were inseparable. Aside from the occasional trip to the cinema with a friend or meeting up for a cocktail, my social life was non-existent. I didn’t even date or travel.
People kept telling me what a good daughter I was and that they could never have moved in with her mother and taken care of her. I would smile and say thank you, but inside I felt suffocated and just wanted out. I was tired of living with her. I wanted my own space. I wanted to go everywhere by myself and not worry all the time that she might have fallen. And I wanted a friend. I wanted a life of my own.
Then, one Christmas Eve, she became so weak she couldn’t even get out of bed. I had to call 911. She had pneumonia and it was going to prove to be the beginning of the end, not just for her but in a way for me too.
She ended up spending a week in the hospital and then returning to the same rehabilitation facility where she had spent all those months after the aneurysm. Same institutional environment and crappy food. And the same smell of urine and death.
When she finally came home two months later, my time as a real caregiver had finally come. She could no longer walk and needed round-the-clock help. I hired someone to help during the day while I was at work, but the rest of the time I had to do everything. And I mean everything. I took her to the bathroom, I bathed her, I brushed her teeth, I cooked her food and I undressed her at night and put her to bed. The graduate nursing assistants at the rehab facility taught me how to change her panties and give her a bedpan in the middle of the night.
I was exhausted and sleep deprived. I finally understood when my girlfriends were younger and had to get up in the middle of the night with their babies.
I was burned out. I could not anymore. My patience had gone out the window and I had turned into an ass. Outside of work, I spent most of my time in my room just lying there trying to rest my brain while my mom sat alone and watched TV.
I was drowning in guilt, but I needed to take care of myself and preserve what little sanity I had left. Eventually I hired someone to come over on the weekends to get my mom out of bed and get dressed and make her breakfast so I could sleep in.
It was almost 18 months since her pneumonia. She ended up sleeping more and more, and the doctor eventually ordered a hospital bed and hospice.
My siblings had all come to say goodbye to her the weekend before she died. On her last night in April 2013 it was just me and the dog. It seemed appropriate because it was just the three of us for a long time. I sat with her all night and gave her some morphine between her cheek and gums to make her feel more comfortable. Her breathing became labored along with the sound of the “death rattle.” I called the caregiver at 7am to come over so I could take a quick nap. I wasn’t out of the room five minutes when she died. I think she stuck it out because she didn’t want me to be alone when she finally left.
I sat with her and held her hand. She looked like she was just sleeping. I kissed her goodbye and left the room while the attendants came to get her body.
I thought I would be relieved when she died. But I didn’t. I just felt exhausted and numb. My mother was dead. I couldn’t really process what had happened.
The next few weeks were spent dealing with the business of death. A funeral was planned. The eulogy was written. Food has been ordered. Paperwork has been filled out. Death certificates were issued. The family gathered one last time to hear my eldest brother read my mother’s will and discuss how the liquidation of her estate would be handled.
I felt resentment building towards my siblings. I wanted to tell you what I’ve been doing for the last 14 years. I wanted them to understand how I gave up my life, not just for our mother, but for her, so they could get on with their lives. I wanted to scream that as far as I’m concerned the only reason there was money to share was because of my huge sacrifice.
The next few months were filled with organizing her belongings, conducting a real estate sale, and selling her home. Then the grief set in. I thought I might have successfully avoided it because I was so busy. No chance. I felt like I was struggling, trying desperately to cling to something. I felt lost and alone. My mother was my constant companion for 14 years and now it was just me. What was
should I do now? How should I stimulate my life? It’s been eight years and I’m still figuring it out. I’m 61 now and the sorrow I felt for my mother is still there along with a sense of panic that I’m running out of time to achieve what I want to achieve. But I never look back with regrets. I would do it again anytime if I had to.
My mother was an incredible woman. She was a wife and mother. She was a teacher and an activist. And she was the greatest love of my life.
Stephanie Baker grew up in McMinnville, Oregon, and graduated from Linfield University with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own
https://www.newsweek.com/my-mom-love-life-one-saturday-changed-everything-1770368 “My mother was the love of my life, then one Saturday everything changed”