Inner strength. That’s what some people call it. Uh-uh. If you’re a caregiver, you wear it on the outside; it’s in-your-face, loud, frustrated and sometimes really, really angry. Like the day in rehab when Mom’s innards seemed to turn themselves inside out, sending her into a spiral of dehydration. The nurses would do nothing without a doctor’s orders, but where was he? We threatened to call 911 or take Mom to the emergency room. Before we could finish packing her things, an IV drip was started. Mom improved dramatically.
We couldn’t be shy, couldn’t be intimidated. We had to advocate for Mom—push, and keep pushing, for what was right. I started spending nights with Mom. On our own, we took Mom to her oncologist. My younger sister and I would play “good cop, bad cop,” but it was no game. We’d take turns complaining when Mom wasn’t getting her meds or meals on time, complimenting when things went right. But when after a week of requests Mom still hadn’t seen a staff doctor, we took her home.
As Mom grew weaker, we grew stronger. We learned to value the strengths and knowledge each sibling brought to our new reality. The computer-savvy searched for resources; the outgoing made phone calls; some of us cooked; some brushed Mom’s teeth; all of us found a wellspring of patience.
We learned to rely on the kindness of strangers. We felt blessed that Dad’s hospice nurse and social worker became Mom’s too. But when hiring daytime caregivers, we had to trust that they’d be good to her, gentle in their touch, loving in their attitude. And we found out that the right caregiver when Mom was stronger wasn’t the right fit when she was weakest. The first kept Mom active; the second kept her comfortable and feeling safe.
As I’d lie beside Mom at night, holding her hard-worked fingers, caressing her once-strong-and-broad shoulders, I’d marvel at how she managed to raise eight children. Whether she always knew that we’d all be there, right next to her and Dad, when they needed us most. I’ll bet she did.
The love they gave, the joy they brought, the utter heartbreak of hearing their last breath—each stage of life we spent with Mom and Dad remains. Maybe we’re orphans in name only.