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. In fact, I couldn't bring myself to linger on it, quickly banishing the thought when it arose: how will I ever be able to bathe my parents? In my musings, I felt this would be the tipping point, the moment when the privilege of caring for my beautiful parents would be too much to bear. I’d never seen my parents’ bodies without clothes, much less
painfully fragile, broken. I would devise schemes for avoiding it: I’d hire an aide. I’d call my sister to do it. I would bathe them in their pajamas. Could I do that?
In the end, it never really came to that. My father, weak and wasted, suffered acutely for only a brief time, during which my mother stoically supervised him in his shower chair. I would assist them as far as the bathroom door and then scurry away, relieved. I rationalized, “They’re married. She won’t mind.”
When, finally, it was my mother’s time, she insisted on showering herself. I secretly felt relief, although I was solicitous about helping her tiny, frail, towel-clad body onto her shower chair, then standing outside the door listening, nervous, fearful, sad.
At the end of her life all of this paled, as my final acts of caregiving went far beyond my perceived horrors of bathing her. My mother, so proud and independent, needed my help in the toilet. Strangely, the wiping and diapering, the floor cleaning and sheet changing, seemed to me to be not horrible or unbearable, but the ultimate expression of my love for her, enduring until this day.