I never expected to become my Mother’s caregiver and didn’t even call myself that for the first couple of years. My Father become terminally ill and I began going to see them once a month while he was dying. It was just what I did as the only daughter. A year after his death and still traveling across a state to see my Mother it became obvious that she needed to be closer to family. I moved her to be near me in VA. Thus began our journey together.
She lived in assisted living in an apartment for the first 3 years and we had some good times interspersed between ER visits, Dr. visits, hospital stays. And, there was a huge emotional dependency. She was able to spend weekends with me on my small farm in the country. We had picnics, shopping trips and enjoyed our time together. I did not know what to expect, how this would go, just thought she would go on living well and we would spend time together. That was not how it turned out.
She was 89 when I moved her here. I watched her body become frailer over the years going from walking with a cane to using a rolling walker to finally a wheelchair and moving to a small bedroom in higher assisted living care. Her weekends with me on my farm stopped and eventually I could no longer take her out of the building for lunch or shopping.
More ER visits, more intense hospital stays, rehab stays. She remained sharp, enjoying her books, at the time I would take her into the gardens at her residence and bring her lunch from her favorite restaurant. She still enjoyed her glass of wine every evening and was a feisty character with the healthcare staff who all loved her.
The demands on my time caring for her needs and managing her health care decisions increased every year. My time caring for her emotional needs did so as well. Six and a half years after I started looking after her, she signed off on her own. A hemorrhagic stroke had taken away everything from her but her mind. She died a very peaceful death and although she had lost her speech due to the stroke, she hugged me and said, “Thank you!”.
Our journey together was the hardest thing I have ever done. I had no family support, siblings far away and not available for help. I made a lot of work compromises. I never expected to have to care for her and would not trade that experience for anything. It was tender, sweet, funny, frustrating, stressful at times beyond words, fearful and over those years, I was always “on call”. It changed me, I did it alone and have since met so many caregivers who are in the same place.
I look at it now as a gift to us both, Mother and Daughter to the end. Caregiving is the hardest thing you will ever do. It will tap into your emotions, your resilience, your patience, your love and those other feelings of resentment, hate, anger, guilt. It will also give your life a purpose you would never anticipate.
I want you to know that you are not alone in this journey. Whatever your relationship is with your loved one, this will be a journey with lots of mountains and valleys.