So Mom, like Elvis, has left the building. Unlike Elvis, she is still enjoying life, returning to her familiar routines at my sister's house outside of Memphis. As I am inclined toward introspection, I felt the need to take some time to take stock. What things have I learned in the past year my mother has been with us? What life lessons am I taking from the experience?
1. Caretaking both difficult and rewarding. It requires energy, commitment, planning, flexibility, and most of all, patience. Ed bore the brunt of most of this, as he was home during the day, but I had my share. My sister, bless her heart, has assumed the reins again for the duration. Included in this is knowing when to take charge, as I discussed a few weeks ago, when I "became" the parent and Mom the child. Someone has to be the bad guy once in a while. It's not a role I relish.
2. I must, must, MUST take care of my health if I want to have the life I envision. I saw with my own eyes the devastation that health neglect can take on the body and spirit, and as I want to live out my days with independence and without pain, I have to put this on the front burner of my life. It is too important to procrastinate about. I have to eat right and keep moving. Which brings me to...
3. I have been taking so much for granted. We had an extra bedroom, small though it was, which housed the elliptical machine and where I exercised to DVDs. Once that was turned into Mom's bedroom for a year, I suddenly became aware that I had not used it as much as I should have, and now would be without it for a long time. We get so used to things being there that we don't think about them until they're not available. I consider that a wake-up call.
4. Sometimes you just have to take a chance. That was what my sister Joy and I did when we brought Mom to Maine. I called it "pushing the envelope" in a way....making a bet that she would not worsen and pass away, and that her best friend or elderly sibling wouldn't pass away. Making a bet that she would survive the arduous trip to and from Maine (and that we wouldn't have a wreck), that we would be able to easily pick up her prescriptions in Maine, that she wouldn't get depressed being away from home, that we would have the ability and wisdom to take care of her as she deserved. During the instances when Mom seemed to deteriorate for a few weeks, Joy and I voiced aloud the heretofore unspoken concern of "are we doing the right thing?" by moving Mom for an extended period of time. But in my heart, I knew it was necessary, and indeed, it seems to have been a success.
5. Take time to be with family. There is nothing more important than to spend time with those you love. If you could have seen the expression on Mom's face when she interacted with her grandkids and great grandkids - priceless. It was so gratifying to have been able to give her that experience and to watch it unfold.
6. Take care of the caretaker. My sister needed a break to allow her to focus on her family life and concentrate on things she had put on hold while taking care of Mom. After just a year, I now understand how important that break is. The caretaker must take care of herself, or the whole thing falls apart quickly. This is not selfishness; this is survival for everyone involved.
7. Take a minute to count your blessings. As it was a blessing for Mom to be here for her, it was a blessing for her to be here for me. The phone is a wonderful invention, but it's not like talking in person. You can't hug through it, you can't wipe tears through it, and you can't apply Aspercreme on an arthritic knee through it. Sometimes you just need the real thing.
8. Finally, as I posted earlier, it takes a village to celebrate a birthday. I learned that there are some kind people in this world who will send a complete stranger a greeting card. Anything that revives or confirms a belief in human goodness is much needed in our society.
So what do I take away from this past year of wonder? Wisdom, gratitude, and a heart overflowing. These are life lessons I am happy to receive.
At least, that's my take on it. Now, where did I put my exercise shoes?