When Mom was hospitalized in November, I started staying at her house to take care of Coco (Mom’s lovable Bichon). When she came home, I stayed to take care of her. I went home for a few weeks at the end of December, taking Coco with me. I can’t remember exactly when Coco and I went to Mom’s for a visit and ended up staying, but we’ve been here for about 2 months now.
After Christmas, I got a burst of energy and started doing some things at my condo that I had wanted to do since I moved in. I cleaned out closets, organized cupboards, and donated bagloads of stuff to Goodwill. I discovered Nesting Place and began to embrace her “It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful” philosophy, which is realllllllly a stretch for a perfectionist like me. I had a lot of fun implementing Nester’s Ten Minutes to a Room You Love in my bathroom, and I decided to start a blog so that I could participate in the linky parties. I was even starting to think about having actual parties at my place. Things were looking up!
Then I became the primary caregiver for Mom. My sister became the appointment scheduler, the person who communicated with the doctors and nurses. She coordinated rides for Mom – we were very concerned because Mom just seemed out of it, not herself. She couldn’t remember what day it was or what she had said to one of us in a conversation. Our friend, Nurse Jane Fuzzy-Wuzzy volunteered to go with Mom to all the critical first appointment and be our ears when we couldn’t be there. What a godsend!
At first, I didn’t bring anything over to Mom’s house. I thought if I could just spend the night there and then go home to shower and get ready for school, I would be maintaining some semblance of a normal life. It was hard, but at least I got to go back to my condo occasionally. My therapist, Jacquie, and I discussed how difficult it was when I stayed at Mom’s for a while and then had to transition to being at my home by myself. I wanted to maintain some boundaries.
We are fortunate to have support from so many people in Houston, but I am really the person who does the day-to-day care, which is ironic because I’m not known for either my housekeeping skills or my willingness to “help out”. In December, Susan and I realized that Mom just couldn’t take care of herself – from doing the grocery shopping to paying bills, she needed help. At first, I was really resistant to the idea of being the one to “do it all” – I felt like I was finally, finally focusing on my personal life, and I was selfish – I didn’t want to give that up! But gradually, I began to feel somewhere between obligated and privileged to being the caregiver. Obligated in a reciprocal way – my mother has sacrificed for me for 40 years, and it is only natural to reach a stage of life where the roles are reversed. I just didn’t think it would be this soon. I also felt remorse about not giving Oma (my mother’s mother) as much time when she was sick and near the end of her life. I am ashamed to admit that there were times when I told Oma I would visit and then just didn’t go. I did do many things for her – when it was convenient for me. When she died, one of my biggest regrets was not finishing her little office – there were still boxes unpacked from when she had moved into the retirement home three years before. In a way, taking care of my mother is a way for me to atone for the things I didn’t do when Oma was alive, not to mention the kind of thing Oma would exhort me to do if she were here!
This past weekend, Mom thanked me for taking such good care of her and said she felt guilty for not doing what I’m doing (living with her) when Oma was sick. I said, “But now I’m doing it for you.” In a way, I’m taking care of her for Oma. I feel like I’m doing what I am supposed to do, and I know that it is nothing to boast about – people have done greater deeds under more difficult circumstances. Besides, what is the alternative? Not taking care of my mother? Mom not being here at all?
I try hard not to be resentful. It’s certainly not Mom’s desire to impose this hardship on me! I am giving up a lot – mostly the momentum I had going into the new year. At 40, I wanted to concentrate on me, me, me! I think I deserve it after all these years focusing on my classroom. That’s why I called this blog “40 is the new 30”: I wanted to do what most people my age spent their 20s and 30s doing – pursuing hobbies, dating/getting married/starting a family, feathering their nests. How ridiculous is it that when I finally reach a point in my life/career where I can balance my job and my personal life (I can’t remember the last time I worked on a weekend!) my free time is taken up by caring for someone with cancer?