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Mom didn't think caregiving made her noble

Editor’s Note: As a recent caregiver to my husband, I met weekly with a caregiver support group. I have seen the heartaches and the heart giving that caregivers perform. The following is an excerpt from Dianne Cooper’s experience of taking care of her mother. Having gone through it, I could not express it any better. On some level, we are all caregivers as spouses, moms, dads, grandparents, children and neighbors, so this honors all of you. Even if you are not in the middle of something now, this will help in the future.

— Sally McKirgan

I’m asked, “How can you do it? I don’t see how you do it, I don’t think I could. What about your life? You are very noble.”

That last comment really got me thinking. No one thinks to call a mother caring for her child noble; yet caring for an elderly parent is considered noble? I don’t see the difference. Sometimes, I do have to ask myself why and I remember.

“Come on girls, time to rise and shine.” By the time we were adolescents, Mom had designated two days a week for herself exclusively. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she was anxious to get going in the mornings. She was so active. She played a lot of tennis and badminton, she swam (like Esther Williams); she played cards and scrabble with her friends in those very happy days.

I think Mom had about as perfect a life as anyone could ask for. Knowing her, I believe she had everything she wanted — for a while. She had a good-looking husband who adored her. Three little girls whom she adored. (She would like to have had a boy for Daddy, but that didn’t happen and besides, she liked girls better anyway).

Mom was the essence of our home — it was a cozy, warm place to be. In our home there was a lot of singing, piano playing, dancing, laughter, storytelling. We listened to radio programs. There were flowers all over the yard and good-smelling, good-tasting home cooking. We each had our household chores to do on Saturday mornings, for which we received enough money (50 cents) to go to the matinee.

One summer, Mom decided it was time we learned to sew, but none of us took to it like she had. She continued to sew for us and make things for the house, and eventually she had made three braided rugs for our new home. She could hardly wait for us to be old enough to begin ballet and piano lessons, but she finally got frustrated and gave up the effort because we always much preferred to play outside.

She was so pretty (although she never thought so). When Daddy was due home from work, she would change into a dress and high heels. She always combed her hair and put a little lipstick on before she came to the kitchen in the morning, even if she was alone. I was so proud for my friends to see her, she was usually the prettiest mother, and she loved us all so much.

Mom lives with me now, she hasn’t been able to live on her own for the past 2 1/2 years. I guess she has Alzheimer’s disease. The doctors don’t know quite what to call it, some form of dementia. It really doesn’t matter what they call it, the effects have gradually brought her to how she is now, like a little girl. Last year she was more like an adolescent — willful and demanding at times. Soon, I expect, she will become more and more infantile, until someday she won’t want to get up anymore.

She can’t get her own food; she doesn’t know what day it is, how to write her name, how to read, or how to change the TV channels. She doesn’t remember her daughter by name, any of her nine grandchildren, or that there use to be three daughters. She confuses the toothbrush for a hair brush, her lipstick for her blush; although she almost never wears one anymore, whatever she’s wearing she calls it her ”dress.” She’s afraid of the dark and wonders why each night “it’s so dark.”

It’s getting harder and harder for her to carry on any kind of conversation, usually the words just don’t come at all or they don’t come out right (and she knows it). But every single day she manages to ask me, “What did you do today, dear?”

Mom does remember her brother, mother and father and who was he? that handsome guy, he was so nice, my husband.”

She had forgotten why she and Daddy aren’t together anymore. She’s forgotten the bitterness and hurt feelings that have kept them apart for the last 25 years. When she sees him now, upon occasion, it’s just like they were never apart. “How have you been, honey?”

I have come to realize she remembers love, or better, she KNOWS love. It’s comforting to see love’s power is so enduring.

So, I guess that’s why I still love her so much, because I know she’d do it for me. I get impatient — it gets very tiring (as it would taking care of any 3-year-old), and I’m not that young myself. No, I don’t feel I’m being noble. To me, caring for Mother is as much a part of life as everything else. In fact, I feel privileged to help her through to the ending of her life.

For more information about National Caregiver Month, see https://caregiveraction.org/national-family-caregivers-month-background.

Diane Cooper wrote this tribute in 1994. In September she passed away in Medford after her two children and granddaughter took care of her. Her Ashland sister-in-law Kathy Cooper submitted this article with the children’s permission. Email 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Sally McKirgan at innerpeaceforyou@outlook.com.