for release Friday May 6, 2005
by Melodie Davis
For the Caretakers: A Mother’s Day Tribute
My father was always a role model for me growing up; he had a very strong personality and was a huge presence in our home. He was a hardworking, risk-taking, entrepreneurial man who wasn’t afraid of adventure or new challenges. He strove to be a peacemaker and he always tried to help the less fortunate, influenced heavily by serving his country by working in a mental hospital during World War II. He was a deacon visiting the widows and orphans, taught Sunday school, and began the first Friendship Acre Farm for CROP (Christian Rural Overseas Program) raising thousands of dollars worth of food and cash to help feed the hungry around the world. He taught, scolded, disciplined and praised us. He took his whole family on a six-week trip out west, and traveled with his wife around the world.
Perhaps you think it odd that I start off a mother’s day tribute to my mom by talking about my dad, but bear with me. Dad is 87 and Mom is 80. I share this personal tribute neither to embarrass them nor boast, but because I’m sure they represent thousands and even millions of other ordinary, dedicated, hard working parents whose roles shift through the years.
Dad was always passionate about not giving up and doing things for himself. But over the past 19 years his health and body have declined, and now his wonderful mind no longer always works like he and we would want.
So Mom has had to take over and learn to do things she never planned or wanted to do. She had to take over handling all the financial affairs, all the driving—which she never enjoyed—and getting his wheelchair in and out of the car. She also has to keep him from driving when he would very much like to drive. She has to monitor all his medicine (and struggle to keep on top of Medicare and insurance plans and reimbursements) and step in when his blood sugar gets too low or too high.
She helped guide them through the tricky passage of moving from independent farm and home owners, to an independent living apartment in a retirement complex. She oversees the care of their car, and much more.
When I think about all these things, my heart swells with admiration and pride at the tremendous strength and coping ability she exhibits at this stage in her life.
Growing up, my mom was a loving mother and great homemaker, but didn’t really hold employment outside the home except for cleaning jobs later in life. She sewed for us, gardened, baked and canned all kinds of things, and often had part time enterprises to raise a little extra cash, such as growing cucumbers, breeding rabbits, and baking sweet rolls for a restaurant. But she was almost totally dependent on Dad—enough that us kids as adults sometimes worried about her dependency: getting through airports, handling money, driving, and discipline (when we were younger). I didn’t see her as weak, it was just the way she and Dad operated.
Knowing what we kids all put her through mentally and emotionally through the years, I have long known her to be a tough survivor. But it is in these later years where I have come to truly admire her for all she has been able to do in taking care of my father and their affairs. She gets frustrated, impatient, depressed and discouraged, but somehow she perseveres. I admire him, too for the way he has patiently endured his failing body and mind. Mom says she never never hears him complain. Well, once in frustration he muttered, “Oh, you might as well put me in a nursing home.”
One of her trademark coping techniques through the years has been singing and whistling. The neighbor man used to say it cheered him up to hear Mom whistling or singing from the kitchen window. Recently she had a cold and couldn’t sing, and it cramped her style. She was joyful when she was better because, “I can sing again!”
Again, I know Mom is far from alone in the new skills she’s had to acquire. I think of a neighbor whose wife has been dealing with cancer for about six years now, and how he has taken over cooking, cleaning and even canning during the summer. I think of couples struggling with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia and the supervision they have to provide for their spouses. These courageous caretakers help us know we can do it, too, if it becomes necessary. They model for us what it takes to deal with life as we get older. They are still teaching us—these older Moms and Dads. For that we thank them.
For a free booklet “Wondering What’s Best for an Aging Parent,” write to at: Another Way, Box 22, Harrisonburg Va., 22802, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org (Please include your paper's name in your response.)
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Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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