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Putting It All Aside: A Caregiver's Journey
By Elisa Lewis

That distinctive horn of Mom's old car, signaling yet another intrusion into an overwhelming day. She was stopping by to visit, a short drive from her apartment. It was just last autumn when the visits here diminished rapidly and my visits to her increased dramatically. Her car soon sat silently in a tenants' parking space, while my car never seemed to be silent in its many trips carrying me, a harried daughter, to be with Mom to figure out medicines or bills or lost keys or lost cat. The biggest intrusion now was the illness that was taking away my mother's independence.

Just last autumn, after so many years of Mom's strong presence and both of us trying so hard to have a good connection, so much was now getting in the way of that. All the years of fighting to show that I was an independently responsible woman, but never quite convincing her that I made the right choice in who I married, where I lived, where her grandson went to school and all the other things that make for a turbulent mother/daughter relationship.

But she was with me now, apartment living and driving so quickly a memory - so ill, so quickly. The tenacious, outspoken, expressive, generous, domineering, gregarious little mother was now here in my house, because she needed to be and because I wanted her to be.

So, the short-long, difficult, intense journey as caregiver had begun - wakeful nights with many assisted bathroom visits and wakeful days of appointments, phone calls, paperwork, feeding assistance, medicine taking, adjusting pillows and legs and head and room temperature and TV and, of course, many assisted bathroom visits.

My husband was supportive and helpful - he looked past their history and saw the needs of the present. My adult son, who has disabilities but the wonderful ability to be kind and to say the right, comforting things, and who always was the first love of Mom's life, was there to help in his own way.

But, most of the time, when there were no nurses or visiting aides, it was just Mom and me at 3 a.m. when she needed a drink of water and I didn't have to go far from our makeshift set-up in our living room. Just Mom and I, sleeping across the room from each other, only a few feet away, and yet all those years we often seemed oceans apart.

Mom passed away on July 17, just two weeks after her 84th birthday. I feel it was a blessing that she didn't linger - cngestive heart failure, bouts with pneumonia, mini-strokes and dementia can be unpredictable with lengthy suffering. We spent a lot of time together at the end of her life; there was finally no arguing and battle of wills. It was just a time together when there was no time for the "baggage."

I'll always remember my mother as a unique, unusual person. It will be hard to stop thinking that we should have had a better relationship; but I take comfort in how far we came, when that ocean became a gentle stream that we could finally cross to each other's side.

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