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It’s almost six months since mom died. I still am in a vulnerable place. Still trying to work, but not seeking it aggressively. Still trying to find my path forward. I had a bad fall about a month ago, and I’m still recovering. My knees, legs and feet are not right. Through no fault of my own, I lost my health insurance. As of today, I get to choose my plan on the exchange, and hope to get back what I lost, keep my doctor, and get back on track.
In this weird time, I have learned something about myself. Through caregiving, I learned to be still. During the worst times before mom came to live
with us, I had to literally sit still in her apartment, and just be there when she was full of fear, hallucinating, paranoid. During the worst times of her dementia, when I was searching for information, help, connection, I found power in stillness. Overpowering my own fear. Being strong for her. It took years, moving her here with my husband and myself, fighting for everything she needed. She gained so much here. The return of her sweetness and fine sense of humor, the conquering of her fears, the benefit of community.
Fast forward to the last days of caregiving. More than six years later, mom had become so frail. At the end we brought in a hospital bed, supposedly to keep her safely in bed. What the universe didn’t know was that this tiny woman had the power to launch herself over the bars, or through the openings between the rail and the foot of the bed, and end up in her old bed, sitting in her wheelchair, or even curled up on the floor. I never had sleep. I never knew what or where she’d be when I went into her room. I needed to be on guard to hear her soft raspy voice call me at any moment.
But the thing that frightened me most and what I HAD to face and get over, was the fear of infantizing my mom, by changing her depends in the hospital bed. This fear was causing us to get up at any hour, and take her into the bathroom, where I had to hold her up with one arm and tend to her with the other. It was hard on her, she was too weak to support herself. It was hard on me, my shoulder was already compromised from the years of supporting her or steering her walker, among so many other things.
This fear grew out of caring for my dad years before, who had Parkinson’s, and was so angry at his loss of dignity. My brother and I have terrible memories of tending to him, and falling over with laughter when things went wrong. My dad was so angry. I loved my dad more than anything, and incurring his anger left me scarred.
So when faced with having to change my mom in her hospital bed, I avoided it as long as I possibly could. But finally, I asked the visiting hospice nurse (more about this later) to show me how. I learned a few tricks from her. But I still had to get over my fear of insulting her dignity. Mom was not like this. She didn’t seem to be angry that her daughter was changing her, holding her up. She was fighting her own weakness. She might not have known who I was at these moments. And mom had her sense of humor intact. Till the very end. This was her gift.
The night I finally changed her in the bed, I decided to reward us both at every turn with cheering! Praising her to the skies when she could turn over on her side, praising myself with my ability to do every task! Praising us both with loud cheering! Good for you! Good for me! Hooray for us! Hooray!
Now you may think this is a little nuts. And maybe it is. But by gaining courage through humor, I think I have found meaning and conquered my greatest enduring fear.