Thursday, August 13, 2009

Letting Go of Mom


“Don’t you think that Mom belongs in a nursing home?” my sister argued.
“No, I don’t” I responded. “As long as we are able to help take care of her in our home we will.” I continued.
“How will you do that?” my brother asked.
“I don’t have a clue but we will figure it out.” I responded.
Thus began an odyssey that would challenge my will, patience, and relationships, but would provide to all involved a look into our futures through the eyes of learning to let go.
Most of our lives are spent learning to let go. As a baby we learned to let go of the bottle or breast that fed and comforted us. As a child we learned to let go of that special toy or blanket that we drug around that gave us security. As we grow and mature we learn to let go of everything from friends, feelings, anger, bitterness, jobs, and bad habits to misplaced hope, dreams and aspirations.
However, letting go requires learning how to let go. Sometimes learning is “on the job training” especially when taking care of someone seriously ill and when that someone is your mother.
Mom came to stay with us in September of 1996 after her husband had passed away. My brother and I converted my garage in Houston, Texas into a 1 bedroom apartment designed to accommodate moms changing needs over time.
At the time she was still in good shape, but had suffered from a series of mini-strokes called TIA( transient ischemic attacks). Unlike a stroke which does more permanent brain damage, TIA’s usually cause temporary problems but worsen with time. In mom’s case the TIA’s became more common and each one took her down slowly leaving her a shell of who she was. Many trips to doctors, hospitals, emergency rooms, and clinics also opened my eyes to how elderly people are over-medicated as a quick fix and how little attention is given to the stress of family caregivers.
During the 3 year time frame we took care of mom we would learn to deal with caseworkers, counselors, bureaucracy, doctors, nurses and caregivers outside of our selves. We where blessed to have picked some excellent caregivers that would provide the needed relief for my wife and I.
It was a time of reuniting and reminiscing about times gone but remembered fondly. A time of re-bonding, laughing and saying things that needed to be said. Despite the difficulty of the task it was a good time.
As mom’s condition worsened, we learned how to feed, bathe and change her diapers and even resuscitate her on more than one occasion although she didn’t want to be.
“I bet you never thought you would have to do this.” mom quipped to me one time while she could still talk, and while I was cleaning her up.
“Mom, you raised 7 kids , you fed us, changed our diapers, provided clothes, shelter and support, so now it’s our turn to do the same for you.” I responded.
Toward the end of her journey on earth, we weren’t sure she knew who we where. At some point along the way, I had learned to let go of the mom I knew a little at a time, of the time we shared, words spoken, and memories established.
I realize that not everyone is equipped emotionally to handle these experiences but if you are determined to do so, build a solid support system and be prepared for one of the biggest challenges of life.
I’m grateful for my wife, children, family, friends and strangers along the way that pitched in. Without them the task would have been impossible to complete.
November 5th, 1999 was both one of the saddest and happiest days of my life as mom quietly let go at the age of 78 to be with the Lord and to re-unite with my dad.

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