In a four-generation photo, I am holding my oldest son, on the day of his baptism. My Grandmother, Bessie, is at left, and my Mom, Bonnie, is at right.
My Mom, Bonnie, has been gone since 2001. She didn’t get to see any of my three boys graduate from high school, or college. I miss her all the time, and today I am thinking about how she would have been first on the dance floor at the wedding of my oldest son a few years ago. It makes me smile.
I Wanted More Time With My Mom
Breast cancer, followed by liver cancer, swept Mom away long before I was ready to let her go. I wasn’t done memorizing the sound of her voice, or all the funny things she used to say. I wanted more time to ask about her childhood, her career, her marriage.
And, oh, she would have loved that Super Bowl LII was in Minnesota. The only thing that would have made it better was if the Green Bay Packers had played.
I Had the Honor of a Long Goodbye
But as the primary family caregiver for Mom in her final years, I had the honor of a long goodbye. I had a chance to really connect with Mom, as did many of my friends.
They still talk about how she “lifted them up,” even as her own strength diminished. Being Mom’s caregiver was among the most magnificent gifts of my life.
Not to say there weren’t moments. As a retired nurse, Mom preferred giving care to being cared for. My hospital corners left much to be desired, as did the overall running of my household at the time.
Picture this: I was working full time, on top of checking homework, writing checks, cooking dinner, packing lunches, folding laundry and driving soccer, baseball, track and football carpools. (It was those young years, when my boys were trying out everything!)
Mom often rode shotgun in the minivan, among the muddy shoes and sports equipment, so I could get her to doctor appointments, the pharmacy and the bank.
I Was Daughter and Caregiver
So many years later, I saw myself in the mirror, first with publication of the seminal report, Caregiving in the United States, 2015, by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving. Turns out the profile of a typical family caregiver, among the 43.5 million Americans who identify as “caregivers,” looked just like—me.
During the years I supported Mom, I was just inside the margins of being a 39-year-old woman, working full time, and taking care of a 68-year-old female relative who needed ongoing assistance for a long-term physical condition.
Yep, I fit that particular demographic. But from my seat as founder of CaringBridge, where a website is created every 8 minutes—often by caregivers, on behalf of patients—I see no “typical profile.”
Wives support husbands, parents support children, siblings, grandparents, cousins, in-laws, friends and neighbors take care of each other.
Caregiving is a Gift
Since I launched CaringBridge in 1997, I have observed countless combinations of caregiving. And the only theme that runs through, and true, is that caregiving is a gift.
Sometimes the gift is obscured, especially when you’re heads-down counting out pills, paying bills and wondering how you will survive the day.
The Sun Shone on Both of Us
But the gift peeks through. An image sticks with me, still sharp after all these years: While my two oldest boys were in school, Mom and I would take Jake, my toddler, to the playground. Mom and I would sit side-by-side on a bench, my arm around her.
We smiled and laughed at Jake doing all the fun stuff 3 year olds do. I will never forget how it felt to be so close to my Mom, as the sun shone on both of us.
Whether you are a daughter, son, mom, dad, sibling, or caregiver, in any fashion, I wish for you, at some point in your life, a gift of love like this. It is what life is about.
Sona Mehring founded CaringBridge in 1997. She is also the author of the book Hope Conquers All.