My mother was my moral compass, unwavering until her last breath. She was smarter than me with a crystal intellect. I needed her approval and I so wanted to make her happy. During the last years of her long life, visits to a variety of doctors were frequent. I got into a pattern: I memorized all of her medicines, noted all of her symptoms, surreptitiously monitored her breathing and bathroom visits. I was so eager to keep her well and do a thorough job of it.
For so many years as my parents aged I wondered: “What will it be like? Will they be mobile? Will they be able to get to the toilet on their own? Are diapers in my caregiving future?” But none of these questions even approached the level of dread that one question inspired.
After the nurses expected me to give my mother a bed bath in the hospital I graduated to, “life before your eyes,” a bath at home. Oh my gosh! I have to get it just right with the water temperature, anticipating her fears because it's me that has to lift her in and out of the tub, apply the skin lotion, and dress her just right.
When someone you take care of dies, you tell one story to the cousins and another to the favorite nephew. You tell one story to the friend whose father died six months ago and another to the friend who visits her mother in the nursing home every day. When someone you take care of dies, you wake up siblings and poke them with a stick.