For someone with a qualification in Quantity Surveying and almost 10 years of work experience in construction, as well as an emerging personal care business owner, the title of caregiver seemed far-fetched. By the end of 2019, I was planning on taking my life to the next level. I was planning on greatness. I was planning on increased sales. I was planning on increased self-care. None of my plans included slowing down my life to take care of my mother.
However, literally on the 31st of December 2019, I found myself taking care of my sick and frail mother. When she arrived, her weight was 43 kg, it was a scary sight for a 67 year old female. It is heart wrenching to see your mother who was once active, ambitious, able, protective and alive suddenly become both emotionally and physically reliant on you. She was once my care giver, my fighter, my cheerleader, my protector, my provider and now the roles have been suddenly reversed. I was neither prepared nor ready. However, when life dealt me the cards of a mother who needed me to assist her to recover and heal, I made myself available to take care of her.
Being a care giver is the epitome of kindness. It is the courage to put your life on hold to ensure that another life heals. You must know that taking care of your mother is not the same as taking care of a child or children. This is an adult who used to be able to do so many things for herself but cannot do those things at the moment. She still thinks that she is able and strong but, of course not. I thread on a fine line of respectfully ensuring that things get done (like eating all her food especially meat for protein because she doesn’t like it much and going to consult a doctor when the need arises, etc.) and firmly ignoring her protests and opinion.
I have a 6 year old daughter and I don’t really have to think much about making her do things that she doesn’t like because I know it is for her benefit. However, with my mother, I had to be conscious of how I handled us doing things that she didn’t like even though it was for her good. She is not a child. She is an adult who has her own opinions on many matters. I choose to listen to her regardless of whether I don’t like it nor agree with it. It is a fine line, I tell you.
I am also learning about my strength. I am strong enough for myself, for my mother and my family. There were days where I went to bed, wondering whether she would still be alive or not in the morning when I wake up. I was gripped with raw fear, I was wondering if I was doing the right things, am I making the right decisions? I was left with no choice but to hope for healing, recovery and vitality.
The most challenging moments were the physical ones, when it was apparent how helpless she was, for example, assisting her in the bathroom. I’ll spare you the gory details. When I was faced with those moments of a painful reality, I decided to practise gratitude. I made a mental list of all the things that I was grateful for. I thanked God for life. I had the means and ability to help her, I was indeed helpful. I would imagine her the way she was when I was a child. In my mind, I saw the mother of my youth who had vigour and more flesh to the bones. The practise of gratitude made those difficult experiences manageable and worthwhile. I could feel joy fill me. My acts of service became an honour.
It has also been an experience where I continue to learn so much about unconditional love. Family and friends have been so supportive, it is difficult for me to think that I am not loved because I am. I am loved. My mother is also affirmed and encouraged by our love, she is healing well because she knows how much we value and love her.
When lockdown happened, I joked with some of my friends that I already had a 2 months dry run. My movements were already limited. My future was already uncertain. My life was already in the process of changing. I was already thinking about immune boosting foods/lifestyle. Lockdown was not too hard on me because I had already accepted a new life. Sure enough I still don’t know what the future looks like but I know that I have hope and faith. You can’t be a caregiver and not be sustained by those two attributes. My faith is further increased as we see the healing and recovery that my mother is making. She has gained 8 more kilos. Her skin is clearing. Her appetite is back. She is stronger. She is becoming hopeful. She is smiling more. She is making plans for the future. She is playing with her grandchild. She is alive! We are alive!