> Family > Heart of Matter

Taking Care of Mother

May 16, 2019 | by Michelle Halle, LCSW

I couldn’t face the degree of my mother’s debility. She had been my rock and now the roles were reversed.

My 85-year-old mother fell in her apartment and fractured her spine. After her one month stay in a skilled nursing facility, she was discharged and moved in with me, requiring constant care and assistance as she slowly recovered.

Taking care of her reminded me how I felt right after I gave birth to twin girls, becoming a mother for the first time. The morning we were discharged from the hospital, the nurse came into my room and told me that all the forms were completed. It was time for me to dress the babies, pack up, and be on our way.

I stared at my husband blankly and the look on his face mirrored mine. I looked at the infants and then looked at the nurse again. “Dress them?” I said in shock. “You want me to dress them? Why can’t you dress them?”

She laughed as she turned her back and left the room.

We left the hospital and drove 60 miles to my parent’s house. When we arrived, my parents stood inside the doorway with their arms extended, as if we were all in a relay race, and they were waiting for us to pass the babies to them for the next leg of the race. Instead, we dashed through the house, down the hallway and into the bedroom. We put the girls down to unwrap their bunting as they howled in hunger surrounded by four adults. I had no idea how I was going to take care of them and felt vulnerable and helpless as a newborn baby myself.

My mother, with her characteristic take charge approach, knew exactly what to do.

“This is how we will get through the night. I’ll sleep in the room with you. We’ll each take care of one baby,” my mother suggested. It was a long night and neither one of us got more than a nap here and there, but the babies were properly cared for.

By the second night, my mother implemented a new plan. We hired a night nurse. When she arrived at 11:00 p.m. each night, she was greeted by all three of us, the twins and their mother, wailing in unison!

My mom let me rest during the day and single-handedly took care of the babies. Although I was convinced that we were going to live with my parents for years, we left when the babies were six weeks old. By then, I was back on my own two feet, feeling strong enough and capable of caring for my family.

That was more than 30 years ago. Now that my elderly mother had become the helpless one – her back pain was excruciating and her condition debilitating – I was once again feeling entirely overwhelmed, depleted, and helpless.

My mother needed me to do everything for her, until I was able to arrange appropriate home health care. The hardest thing for me to face was the degree of my mother’s debility. She had been my rock, now the roles were reversed.

Although she has recovered, she is no longer the robust dynamo she once was. Things that used to be effortless now require her focus and concentration. My mother can’t to do her grocery shopping, pay her bills, manage her medications, schedule her doctor appointments, clean her house, or keep track of the days of the week. She doesn’t remember conversations that we had just moments ago, but she does know who I am, who my children are and who my grandchildren are. She also remembers, with great pleasure and satisfaction, the time she spent taking care of my newborn twins.

I tell myself that I can do this, and I reboot. I know exactly what I need to do. I had an excellent role model - a master teacher. Still, the overwhelming feeling persists, and it hovers and lingers even after I have made the arrangements that I need to make. I wonder why.

Despite having done so much for my mother, why do I feel that my efforts are inadequate?

As I sit there puzzled, a familiar expression suddenly pops into my mind flashing like neon lights on a huge billboard, and its wisdom finally brings me clarity and helps me understand why there is no peace. The familiar Yiddish expression hit home.

One mother can take care of ten children, but ten children cannot take care of one mother.


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