My mom was my lifeline long after birthing me.
I was very sick with asthma during much of my childhood. My mom spent countless days and nights (many in the hospital) watching me gasp for air and seemingly coaxing my lungs to breathe again. I struggle to recount exactly what she did to help restore my breathing capacity. I just remember knowing that as long as she was there, I’d breathe again.
I don’t know when or if she ever slept when I was sick because I don’t recall ever being alone or waking up without her eyes on me. I know other family members or hospital staff must have been around during at least some of that time. But I only remember her. She and I were partners and we were in it together.
I eventually “outgrew” my asthma. But my mom never stopped being a caregiver. Not surprising since she’d cared for her dad when I was toddler. Years later, she cared for her ailing mom and for my dad when he was seriously injured. Whenever relatives or neighbors faced crises, she was there. My mom cared for everyone.
Well maybe not everyone. She often overlooked her own needs to care for other folks. In fact, I think that’s the reason why her cancer was diagnosed at such a late stage. But I’m not ready to write about that story (other than to say it’s why Kadamba Tree places so much emphasis on self-care).
In the months before she died, I watched my mom’s body waste away. But during that time she emanated a light that seemed to grow brighter and brighter despite how ill she was. She was so luminous that people stopped in their tracks whenever orderlies pushed her through the hospital corridors for tests.
It was the same light that comforted me before the hospital discharged her one last time. My heart was breaking and I couldn’t speak because she was going home to die. So she took my face into her hands and told me that she loved me. I’m not 100% certain she actually said the words aloud. I just remember the room seemed very bright and I felt the warmth of her love in and around me. In that tenderest of moments, our existence was stripped to nothing but our love for each other.
Later that day, I wailed in grief over the thought that soon I’d no longer feel the warmth of her touch again.
But my mom’s light encouraged me through several more weeks of caring for her at home. At the time I didn’t think of myself as her “caregiver.” We were simply partners just like we’d been since I was a sick little girl.
I’ve been privileged to do a lot of things, but caring for my mom during her last months and being at her side when she died were the biggest honors of my life. For better or for worse, our partnership became the gold standard by which I measure all other relationships.
It’s been ten years since she died. During that time, there have been many challenges and sorrows. Perhaps my biggest challenge has been regularly feeling as loved and cherished as I did in the moment she held my face. But that moment also reminds me how much I deserve to be loved and cherished — especially by myself.
As I end this post, the sun is about to set on the tenth Mother’s Day since my mom died. I realize that I’ll always feel sad on this day. Still, there’s something about Mother’s Day that makes it a little easier to close my eyes, let my surroundings fade away and feel the eternal light of my mother’s love shine on my face.
Karen is a Certified Program Leader for the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving’s Caring for Me, Caring for You Program and a Master Trainer for RCI’s Resources for Enhancing Alzheimer’s Caregiver’s Health (REACH) program. These evidence- backed programs offer education and support for family caregivers.