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Caregiving Lessons

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

My Turn

A week in the hospital and lots of antibiotics pretty much cured my pneumonia. But the rest would take some time. Therapy would help me deal with my insecurity and my grief as a daughter, forgotten. But my body had given me the clear signals I had ignored because I thought once I was a caregiver, that everything and anything else that defined me was gone. But while my parents stayed with my brothers, and I healed up, I began to think: maybe I wasn't meant to be a caregiver. Because I was having a difficult time just being the daughter in all this. Dealing with having my mother forget me was something that was going to take time. Everyone kept telling me "you knew it would happen eventually," which is true, but it sure doesn't prepare you. Nothing prepares you for that blow.

My parents decided to stay with my brothers. It was the town in which my mother felt most at home. I knew that my bigger city offered better doctors, but, I couldn't give them the landscape of the familiar, which went beyond some photographs or furniture. It was the small town they'd spent 35 years in, and where they wished to spend their last years, too.

I stay in touch by phone and frequent visits. Sometimes, like last night, I call my parents, my breath held in my throat, waiting to hear my mother's voice. I wonder if she will know me. I say hello, awaiting the verdict, searching her words and tone for the recognition I crave. "Do you know who this is?"

"Of course I do, it's my baby girl." She seems to chastise me for even thinking she wouldn't recall who I am. There is a bitter sweetness to knowing that she is blissfully unaware of her disease. I relax, hearing the words that tell me she is having a good day. When I am her "baby girl," I melt inside, wanting to cry and throw myself to her chest and sob at the joy to be known. Instead, I say, "Of course I am." And I always will be, because I know. And that's enough.

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