The Path Unexpected

I am blessed to have been able to call my mother, my best friend.  We have always been close, and the love we have shared with one another has been a source of great joy for both of us.  When I got to college I was surprised to find that not all daughters felt such an affinity for their mothers. I now know it is an exceptional gift, not to be taken for granted or gained easily.

My mother is a quiet woman but yet filled with life and the joy of following her Savior.  She had an inner strength that sustained our family and we all relied on her in many ways. She seemed indomitable and so it was a shock to notice for the first time when I was in my late 30’s my mother was “suddenly” shorter.

Our extended family was gathered together on Christmas eve to celebrate, and my mother and I were preparing food in my kitchen.  Having gotten a late start on child bearing my children were still very young and I relied on my mother a lot for wisdom, a shoulder to cry on and physical help, too, when she and my father visited.  I was standing next to her and realized I was getting a different view of her.  I observed for the first time her rounded shoulders and asked rather too bluntly about it.  She mildly replied that she had developed scoliosis.  Over the next few years she was diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome (an autoimmune disorder) and Hashimoto’s Disease (another autoimmune disorder).  She never made much about any of these ailments and so it was easy for me to ignore, too.

As my own children grew up and became more independent I found myself focusing more on my parents–my mother especially.  She had to have a complete hysterectomy, she became very ill after a bus trip with my father and was hospitalized with e. coli.  In 2008 she became very sick and was diagnosed with lymphoma.  I went with my parents to the oncologist and came face to face with her mortality.  She was successfully treated, but it recurred twice more in the next 3 years, again successfully treated.  In the meantime my father was also diagnosed with lymphoma–a much more aggressive variety–and he had to undergo chemo.  He was also declared cancer free after treatment, but all of this took a heavy toll on their physical health.

During this time I began to notice my mother would tell me the same stories over and over when I would call her to chat. My brothers and I started to talk to them about downsizing and moving closer to us.  It took a lot of convincing and even more time to sell their house and actually make the move, but they finally moved into a lovely apartment in a senior living community in the city where my two brothers lived.  I was only an hour north of them so between my brothers and me we were able to help them out and spend  time with them frequently.

The time of ignoring their advancing years and physical decline was long gone.  It was especially obvious with my father–he was not one to keep his ailments and physical discomfort to himself.  My mother, however, said very little about any health concerns of her own.  Just two and a half years after they moved into their little apartment my father began to experience an unexplained pain which started and grew more and more severe over the course of a couple weeks.  He was hospitalized, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away within days.  It was a shock to all of us, but most of all to my mother.  Suddenly she seemed infinitely more frail.

She said she wanted to stay in their apartment–it was home and she had friends in the community and activities to keep her busy.  But it did not take long for my brothers, husband and me to realize it was not going to work.  She was not going to the dining hall to eat, she had a fall in her apartment, she got sick and I had to bring her home to take care of her.  She ended up in the hospital–probably the result of dehydration and an infection.  My brothers and I agreed she could no longer live by herself and there was no question about where she would move–my husband and I took her in and made our home her home.  She did not object.  She said, “Your brothers have had me since we moved to our apartment, now it’s your turn to have me.”  She knew her value, she knew how much she was loved.

A year later we now have an unexpected family dynamic–two grown children still living at home and my elderly mother who has required increasing assistance in daily activities.  My children have become independent adults, but my mother and I have switched roles–I am now her caregiver and in many ways she is my child.


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