This post is not about monarch butterflies, nor is it about leadership, or teaching, or any kind of student advocacy. This post is what I’ve learned about being an adult daughter of an aging and ill parent.
From 9/10 – 9/28, I was with my dad as my mom was hospitalized with a life threatening illness. No, this was not COVID. And, luckily, there was still a bed for her in ICU when she needed it. But, the experience has revealed some important facts to me. One of those facts is what my core values are.
The values I was taught and have incorporated into my own life are:
There were some hard discussions and decisions to make regarding my mom’s care. This involved my sister, my husband (a former physician), and my father (my mom’s husband of 60+ years).
My husband has said that I have provided the voice of reason by being honest. Even though that might be true, it doesn’t make it easy. I have always been a realist. This does not prevent me from being hopeful or even optimistic at times, but always serves to ground me in real life. I’ve been told I have a unique ability to make assessments of need. And, I believe this is true not only in the educational world but in the worlds of healthcare and family. I had to speak the truth at my mom’s care progress meeting last week about where I saw her living after rehab. Unfortunately, it was not at home. My mom heard this. My sister and father were informed of my opinion after the meeting. I sensed reluctance in what I was saying, especially from my dad. But, I spoke honestly. I had rationale for my opinions – both from a former nursing perspective and from the perspective of a loving daughter. I’ve been an honest person my entire life – so honest that it sometimes gets me in trouble. But, it is who I am and what I carry as a core value. And, yes, sometimes honesty hurts.
All I can say about this that you should tell anyone you love about your feelings. During some of my mom’s hospitalization we thought she would die. My sister and I had to prepare my Dad for this possible reality. But, I can say unequivocally, that part of our preparing our dad for our mom’s death (she has not died) was to allow him time to say goodbye. This is a couple that went to kindergarten together, that were high school sweethearts, that built a life together through hard work, resilience, and conservation of resources. My sister and I had an ideal upbringing with two involved, loving parents. We felt that we might be nearing the end of having one of those parents in our lives, and so, the expression of love became imminent.
Regularly, during my visits to my mom, whether she was intubated and unable to speak or incoherent from the episodic dementia that had overtaken her bright, intelligent mind, I told her that I loved her. And, I do. My mom and I have not always seen eye to eye, but I know I love her. I love her very much. And, I had the opportunity to both tell her and show her during this hospitalization. Besides using the words, which I realize come hard to some, I found ways to show my mom (and, my dad) that I loved them.
I was there. My husband and I travelled 900 miles to be there at their side. I brushed my mom’s hair. I held her hand. I brought up favorite memories – including poetry. I ushered my dad to and from the hospital. I cooked for him. I had coffee with him in the morning. I kept him company. I watched him fall asleep in his chair while watching a ballgame on T.V.. I told them both that I loved them.
Love is so important. I cannot explain it. I cannot live without it. And, I am blessed to have it and well as give it to those who mean so much to me. So, if you love someone, please, please tell them! It is the most important thing you can do. Love. Love yourself and love others. Just love.
What can I say about kindness that hasn’t been said? Maybe, that I needed this reminder about kindness. I was so very impressed by the care my mom received from her nursing and medical team staff during her hospitalization. They were all so good at their jobs! And, best of all, they all seemed to enjoy what they were doing (even during this awful period in our history concerning health care). I said thank you to everyone – the custodian who chatted with me about the game show Price Is Right, to the COVID screeners at the hospital check in desk, to the bedside nurses and doctors. My husband bought food twice for the ICU staff – lunch one day and breakfast another day. It said – “We appreciate you!”
Being grateful and kind is so very important. I tried to remember this daily. Even as my mom was nasty or I was irritated with how things were going regarding her progress, I practiced kindness. It is so very important. This experience has taught me to slow down and appreciate all that I can in life.
Say thank you. Appreciate others. Show kindness.
My parents are blessed with neighbors who are 30 years younger than them. So, they are the age of myself and my husband. They are watchful. They are concerned. They are helpful. We cannot thank them enough. We continue to be in touch with them.
When in a crisis, any kind of crisis, having support systems is crucial. By flying to New York to be with my parents during my mom’s hospitalization we made a visible show of support. As a former intensive care nursery nurse I was able to explain medical jargon to my dad and help him to navigate the hospital. I was able to confidently say, “Don’t worry about that alarm, it’s just…. the nurse will get it when she has a chance.” I was able to explain the ventilator to him.
My husband, a former ER physician, was able to preview the visits for us by speaking with the medical staff regarding my mom’s progress and status. He was instrumental in her coming off the ventilator, I believe. So instrumental, he was, that the the ICU staff offered him a job!
I did little things like drive my dad to and from the hospital, visit my mom first to see how she was doing, ask questions of the staff so I could interpret it for my dad. I made phone calls and researched the internet for rehab facilities and nursing homes. I cleaned and cooked. My husband did yard work, and we stayed with my dad for two and a half weeks – perhaps the greatest support of all was just being present.
But last Thursday, when I had to tell the therapy staff that I thought my mom should be placed in a nursing home, I knew I was advocating for both of my parents. As their daughter, this was my responsibility – to do what was right for both of them. And, that took love, kindness, and honesty.
I’ve learned so much over the last month, about what is important and what is not.
HONESTY, LOVE, KINDNESS, SUPPORT.
They are important. Not much else is.
I feel this so deeply, and I empathize with your situation. It’s hard to be both honest and kind as we work to advocate for our parents – to members of the medical community, to friends, and sometimes to our own families. But all does stem from love, and a desire to grant back to our parents the same selflessness and compassion they showed us over the years. Sending you all the strength.