En español | Twice in 10 months. First Dad died. Then Mom. I still can’t wrap my heart around it; still no need to dig deep for the pain. Talking about it, though, is a whole other story—actually, two.
My seven siblings and I became orphans last year. But first, we became caregivers.
In late January 2009, the oncologist’s gently dropped bomb exploded: Dad had stage IV pancreatic cancer. No cure. Chemo was an option, but Dad chose hospice at home. Three intense, exhausting weeks later—and two months shy of his 87th birthday—my dad was gone.
Then in May, our mom—who had multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer—reacted badly to chemo and was hospitalized. A week later, she was in a rehabilitation center and soon entered hospice, which provides at-home assistance to the terminally ill. As with Dad, we siblings rallied to her bedside, sharing frequent-flyer miles and needed cash so we could care for her at home.
This time, facing what we hoped would be a longer journey for Mom than for Dad, our out-of-state siblings, their spouses and older children took up the caregiver’s mantle, coming to Phoenix to help. Then we all started chipping in for a daytime caregiver.
Despite the extra help, the grueling schedules of full-time work and nighttime caregiving took their toll. In September, I moved from Washington, D.C., to live with Mom and work remotely. By November, it was time to take family medical leave.
"We couldn’t be shy, couldn’t be intimidated. We had to advocate for Mom."
We watched Mom’s body gradually vanish, but the passion and determination that had made her an honored community leader and activist—and made her Mom—remained. Her face brightened when she’d “order” us to wash our hands or pick up after ourselves, when she’d laugh at the silly humor my five brothers inherited from Dad, and when she held our hands.
Then Mom’s smile faded; the passion turned to peace on December 7, 2009.
Raising eight kids builds you up or wears you down. Mom and Dad grew strong. Even in their eighties, they kept their home spotless, planted flowers, argued politics, lived life fully and laughed a lot. I guess I thought that they’d stay that way, that they’d just slip away, still mentally and fairly physically intact.
The reality: Caregiving is hard, it hurts, it lifts you with hope then drops you into an abyss of fear. It makes you plumb the depths of your being for inner strength; makes you cry with pain, and with frustration; saps you physically and mentally; and lets you return, in the most intimate of ways, the love your parents gave you.