Anyone who reads this blog knows I write about my Dad… a lot. He’s always on my mind since he suffers from late-stage Parkinson’s disease. And yet there’s another person I’m always thinking of, who keeps the machinery of my father’s world moving like clockwork, who’s as necessary, irreplaceable and vital as the sun is to the earth.
And that’s my Mom.
My 80 year-old mother had to make a tough decision a few months ago. Dad was coming out of the hospital after a long stay and she had two choices. She could put Dad in a nursing home. Or she could keep him with her.
Either option was hard. Dad would be lonely and miserable in a facility, one of many elderly people sitting in wheelchairs. He wanted to come home. He wanted to be with his wife. He wanted to watch Yankee games from his favorite chair.
And yet Dad’s Parkinson’s has advanced so much, medical and personal care would be administered around the clock. Mom would be tied constantly to Dad’s ever-growing needs.
There had to be a third alternative. And thankfully she found it.
Mom put together a team of aides, therapists, and nurses who pop in and out from 9:00 a.m. till 6:00 p.m. seven days a week. A shy, introverted person, she had to get used to lots of people around every day in their small Connecticut home.
But she realized two things fast.
First, she needs these professionals. There’s no way she could provide the services they do.
Second, she saw how wonderful and dedicated they are. She saw how the female aides, many Jamaican, take such gentle care of my Dad, laughing and keeping him clean and happy. She saw the way the male aide cheerfully takes my father for rides in his car or in a wheelchair outdoors, an act of heavy-lifting my mother could never do.
And judging from my visits, I see how this medical staff likes my parents in return. In some ways, they’ve formed a community of care around my Dad.
Still, days are hard. Dad’s food must be pureed, his water thickened with apple sauce to prevent choking. Mom must feed him every bite. She can’t move him herself so must wait for aides to come and help Dad from bed to chair.
Sometimes she sounds bone-weary from 12-hour days, but knows this is her final gift to a husband she’s always loved, the man she’s been married to sixty years, the man she met on a sunny Cape Cod day in 1954.
Watching my mother I see it’s possible to grow and evolve in our later years. Life can test us any time. We’re not done at 40, 50, or even 80. We can always learn and adapt. And although this is one of the hardest times of her life, Mom realized she’s more capable, brave and resourceful than she ever imagined.
Many times I ask her, what can I do? How do I care for the caregiver? And the answer always comes down to one thing.
Be there. Be there to listen, console, and give a hug. Be there to stay with Dad once a week so she can go out with much-needed friends. Be there to talk. Be there to laugh. Be there to cry.
And although this never seems enough, in small ways, I see it does help. Parkinson’s took a lot from my parents, especially my father. And yet it gave one thing to my mother. It gave her strength she never knew she had.
I’m so proud of her. Being there is the least I can do.
(Postscript: My father passed away peacefully in July, 2015. My mother was by his side).
Do you have caregivers in your life? Have you ever been the caregiver? Comments are always welcome and if you like, please share. Thank you!