When I graduated in 1994 with a master’s degree in geriatric social work, my goal was to do all I could to help seniors and their caregivers. Then, the idea that I would one day become a caregiver myself had never crossed my mind. But during the 1999 holiday season, that changed completely. As the 20th century came to a close, I became a caregiver for my dying mother — and my experiences with her taught me far more about caregiving support than any graduate course or entire career in social work could hope to accomplish.
Coming Together to Care
A few weeks before Christmas my mother suffered a massive stroke, and my stepfather, Phil, needed help. Phil had decided to take my mother home, and although they lived over one thousand miles away, I was able to travel there the next day. Together we decided we could handle any caregiver duties; however, even with the involvement of hospice, we quickly realized that we were going to need some backup. My wife, Mary, who is a registered nurse, agreed to fly out and help. Over the next two weeks I was immersed in a process that, although sad, proved to be one of the sweetest times of my life.
Each day, Mary brushed my mom’s hair and kept it neat, applied her lipstick and put on earrings for her, and kept her abreast of family and local news — along with the progress of her beloved San Antonio Spurs. Mom’s favorite time of year was Christmas, and we dressed up her small bedroom for the occasion, doing the things we knew she enjoyed. We tacked up cards from friends and family, placed bowls of fruit and nuts around the room, and even set up a tiny tree. With periodic Christmas music in the background, we became busy caregivers.
Mary managed my mom’s care, and I was her loyal aide, learning everything I could from her aboutcaregiving support. She taught me how to make a bed with my mom still in it, how to keep her clean and administer medicines — from suppositories to sublinguals — and much more. My mom’s need for the love of her family brought all of us together for a single purpose over the next ten days. During that time the meaning of Christmas and my relationship with Mary changed forever.
I arranged to stay around for a few days after mom’s funeral. When I took Mary to the airport she kissed me on the cheek and said, “You did a great job.” Looking back, that kiss says it all about why I became a caregiver.