Ever since I stopped writing my “Wholly Family” column I have been asked by folks if I would ever consider doing it again. The truth is, because there really are so many awesome Catholic women with columns and blogs out there, I didn’t feel called to take up space in our local paper anymore. And syndication was a lot of work, more work than I have time for these days.
So, why the okay-its-not-a-column-Mary-but-its-a-whole-lot-like-a-column blog thing?
who happens to also be this lady…
…my mom, M.E.
In an earlier post, I explained that the whole purpose of this blog was to focus on how we can best love our family. The whole lot of em. The ones that are easy to love, and the ones for whom loving takes more effort. All of em. The ones we’re with.
And I’m with her.
I felt led to start this blog after a few years of caring for my mom who has dementia. She is such a beautiful person, who has had a full life. A life that we who spend time with her – though we are not suffering from the same awful disease as she is – are forgetting.
Taking care of someone with dementia can do that. Can make you think the disease is who they are. Can make you focus on all the things they say over and over, or the simple tasks they can’t do anymore, rather than remember all of the things they used to do.
When I tell my kids that my mom rode a bike, taught me to cook and sew and drive a car, went to all my volleyball and basketball games, and was often the loudest parent in the stands (“C’mon, honey! Foul her! Teach her a lesson she won’t forget!”), they simply can’t imagine it. All they can see (outside of old pictures and old film converted to VHS converted again to DVD and not yet in the Cloud – who can keep up?) is that she is a kind, funny, wheelchair-bound woman who loves them a lot and repeats herself. A lot.
So I wanted to start a blog to document not only who this beautiful woman is, but who she was, and who she always will be.
And this is how we got here.
Forty-three years ago, and just six short weeks after I was born, my mom suffered a cerebral aneurism which left her with impaired speech and mobility. Ironically, the reason she was able to survive the medical trauma of her aneurism as well as she did is because of her nursing degree. She knew the signs of a stroke and when they came on in the middle of kitchen that day, she looked up at my dad and said, “Honey, I am having a stroke. Call the ambulance.” (Yes, I am that old that 9-1-1 did not yet exist).
And if you know anything about strokes, you know the sooner the victim can get medical attention, the more the doctors can save. So, while total loss of speech and use of her left side was huge, it could have been much worse. The woman cheated death. She’s from Ohio.
My mom didn’t just survive a stroke. She embraced her recovery whole hog. I can remember a decent part of my childhood being spent at therapy sessions playing with that silly-putty stuff she used to strengthen her left hand after she discarded it and tried to master a walking lesson again.
And from therapy, she got some use back of her left side and even much of her speech recovered. She walked sprightly with a brace on her leg, played from “Sing Along With Mitch” one-handed on the piano, rode a bike with me in the rear basket, and mothered as “normally” as any awesome mom who’d recovered from a brain aneurism could in the 1970s. She also became an advocate for stroke victims and was even VP of the local chapter of the Arizona Stroke Club. No holdin’ that lady back. It’s the Buckeye in her.
But over the course of 43 years, that initial stroke has evolved into now very limited mobility. She is wheel chair bound, because despite her mouth yelling at them, those legs just won’t do what they’re told. Add to this her increasing level of dementia – which is its own amazing brain disease I hope to explore with you here later – and you have a woman who started the first few decades of her life as a sporty, basketball-playing, swing-dancing, Manhattan-drinking, Masters Degree in Nursing-wielding studdette to one who is trapped in her body-prison and on her worst days, can find herself lost on a 8-12 minute loop of confusion.
Because of this stroke-dementia combo, and because of the level of care she needs, she is not able to be cared for at home. A fall last Spring forced her to move in and out of various care facilities with my dad as we try to find her the best care and the most freedom. And my mom comes from good Irish stock, so this just might be a long haul into her 90s.
So this blog is therapeutic for me, as I witness my mom-hero say the slowest goodbye ever.
But I hope it can be an inspiration to anyone else who serves as a caregiver to their parent. Whether you are in the rarer predicament that I am of still having little ones in the home while you help care for a parent, or whether you are spending your own retirement doing this. Whether you are the only child doing it, or you are surrounded by a bunch of awesome siblings or other family members and friends helping you.
There is grace available in every vocation. I am a witness of this.
And I hope to be one conduit of that grace for you.
Because it is hard. It is painful. And without God’s grace, it is impossible. But like anything hard and painful that God allows, it is something, when embraced, that has the ability to make the world more beautiful.
So let’s do that, shall we? Let’s’ be witnesses to God making the world more beautiful through the very things that our culture thinks are too ugly and difficult to bear.
I have a few plans for this part of “A Thousand Loads of Laundry” that I am kinda super duper excited to share soon. But for now, let me witness to one of God’s loveliest works and all of the beauty it creates: my mom, M.E.