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Caregiving Lessons

A daughter learns a lot about herself in the process of caring for others

I tried to control the surge of raw pain that she forgot me because I was adopted. I had been 2 when that had happened, so I never knew any other parents; the thought that I was not theirs never occurred to me. Yet here, her disease was sinister and cruel, finding that crevice of truth to nudge her into, and blotting out the rest.

But now was not the time for my sorrow. My tears only confused her more. Wiping them away, I put a false cheer into my voice. "It's okay. Let's get you something pretty to wear to the hospital." And just like that, the moment I'd dreaded for years came and went. I'd found that my mother's dementia was much like Granny's had been. Both loved pink and pretty, girlish things. The only good thing about Alzheimer's, at least for my mother and my grandmother, was that it at least stranded them in a time when they were the best versions of themselves, blushing young girls, filled with life and excited for what it held. For them, at least Alzheimer's had not left them in a land of uncertain limbo.

Dad's health finally allowed him more time at home with us, but his demands increased, and, suddenly I felt like a child again, seeking his approval. I would have done anything for his praise, and I pushed myself further and harder than I should have. My body stopped me cold with a severe case of pneumonia. But there was no time to be sick, not with Mom's mental state and Dad's health needs. And there was no time for my needs; meeting them was such a ludicrous thought it almost never occurred to me. I sometimes missed the activities I used to enjoy: reading, cooking, shopping, sleep. But, unwilling to admit I'd bitten off the proverbial "more than I could chew," I pushed myself further, ignoring the signs that I wasn't over the pneumonia, until I wound up in the hospital.

That's when I learned what took me three generations to learn. Caregiving starts with care taking. Too often, caregivers fall in the trap to which I did; they give so much care that they give away their selves. And that was my nearly fatal mistake. I had done almost no caretaking of myself during the last two years.

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