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Love comes full circle

April 6, 2009

by Jenni Sebora

Last week I received a letter from the hospice care program, relaying that it has been six months since the death of my mother, Iris.

The hospice staff would like to let me know that I, as well as my family, continue to be in their thoughts, and they hope to support us in any way possible.

Enclosed with this letter was a grief support letter. Grieving certainly is a process. I did not lose a child or my spouse, nor a sibling, but a parent – actually both of my parents – have passed away.

The natural order of things is for parents to die before their children. I would believe that that is what most, if not all parents, would want. As a grown child, it makes this process even more natural.

With that being said and with gratitude for the longevity of their lives, losing your parents leaves a void in one’s family structure. They are the individuals who raised me (and my siblings), they are the root and the rock of our family, the grandparents to my children, the storytellers of our family history, and as time evolved, best friends as well as mom and dad to me.

For my immediate family, we had a special situation, as other families do, in that my parents, as I have shared previously, lived with us in our home. They were physically, socially, and emotionally a part of my family’s everyday lives.

My father lived with us for about five years until Alzheimer’s and natural causes took over his body and mind. My mother lived with us for almost 10 years until her death. She lived and died in our home with the support of hospice and our family.

Being a caregiver and a child of elderly parents whose health is failing involves many dimensions. It can mean reversing roles. There were times as I cared for my mom and dad that I felt emotions of loss, grief, and sadness. It was my turn to care for my parents as they had cared for me for so many years. They needed me, but there were times I wanted my dad back or my mama back as I cared for their personal needs.

As my mother’s health was failing and her death was imminent, she laid in bed with her bodily functions deteriorating and failing. She relied on me because she felt comfortable with me as her daughter.

That last summer, I had decided to go back into teaching and as I was preparing at school for the upcoming school year, I received a couple of phone calls from my mother and her aide. (I would work at school for a few hours while my mother was cared for by a home health aide.)

One phone call has stuck with me in the pit of my stomach. My mom was crying and pleading asking me most sincerely to come home and help care for her personal needs as she was having a tough time. I then spoke with the aide, who reassured me that she could handle it.

I continued working for a while longer and then proceeded home in tears, feeling like I had let my mom down when she needed me the most.

Taking care of my parents is a decision I will never regret, but it does come with a myriad of mixed emotions and feelings. I was also lucky to have the support and help of my husband, who also tended to the not-so-fun personal grooming duties and the like. I will forever feel overwhelming gratitude to him for that support.

As my mother came closer to her death, taking care of her personal needs, including her medication dispension, became prominent and a major duty of mine.

It was my job, with support and information from hospice staff, to give her pain medication at intervals. This also came with mixed emotions and feelings of guilt. I certainly did not want my mother to be in pain. No one wants that for a loved one, but with that also came the realization that every time I gave her that dose of medication, it kept her in a state of rest, almost unconsciousness.

She was no longer feeling pain and great discomfort, but she was also no longer able to communicate, talk, and share with those around her. Talking and sharing was my mother’s favorite hobby, and ultimately the only love that she could continue partaking in as she lay in her bed unable to get up. And now, that last love was gone.

I know that that is the natural course of dying, but although my common sense knew this, my emotions felt differently at times. I would never go back and change the situation as it was, but as a grown daughter who took care of her elderly parents, I would tell others in the same situation to make sure that they have support.

And my ultimate guilt was not being at her side when she took her last breath on earth, as I had been with my grandmother and my father when they passed away. It is something I cannot explain. My mother brought me into this world and wanted me to be with her when she left this world.

I know that my mother may have been waiting for the time when her loved ones were not there, so she could slip away quietly. I know that this certainly could have been my mother’s wish, but again, emotions arose and I felt like I had let her down again.

As Memorial Day draws near, it will be the first one that I do not share with my mother physically. Rather, I will be sharing it in a far different way – spiritually.

I will be placing flowers on the gravesite for both my father and her with the knowledge that my parents loved us unconditionally and I returned this love as best as I could. Our love came full circle.