Lately stories from women who help take care of an elderly parent, a child with disabilities, or even a neighbor they check in on every night have crossed my path. I listen, or observe, or hear a third party story and their quiet strength and firm exhaustion hangs heavy inside me.
Some of these same women say they hear the phrase “I just don’t know how you do it” a lot. And from the sounds of it – those words become blankets of frustrated suffocation rather than of comfort. “You just do it, they say.” All while shouting Oh My Gosh in their minds.
“You do it because you have to,” they say. And tears often stream, while forcing a smile, when they explain. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s an honor and a privilege, but it’s hard.” And with the rhythm of their caring and mourning and working and soothing, so beats their expansive hearts.
I think they’re quiet warriors.
My mom spent one to three hours a night, five to seven days a week, for five years in a nursing home. By choice, and by duty. It simply became a way of life. She went to her mother’s side and talked, fed, bathed, and clothed her.
It’s what one does. It’s what mostly daughters do.
On a sunny spring day, after many ups and downs the gradual end began. The family was called and we set up camp in my grandma’s home. We never called it her home, she would be repulsed at the thought of living out her years in such a place. But coming into this world and leaving this world is a tricky business.
As I lay on the bed of the Home, my eyes opened, then closed then opened in a battle of will. Warm sun rays streamed into the room as if paying homage to her. She often rolled her chair and her dog into the hallways of this new Old Home and felt the light and sun on their skin. Sun baths, she’d say. I bathed my tired soul in the warmth as I rolled over on the bed, in and out of sleepy consciousness. My mom sat next to her bed for hours and days, and readjusted blankets and laid her hands on her hands, and swept the hair out of her closed eyes. Her two sons came in and out of the room with nervous steps between phone calls in the halls; a general discomfort and dis-ease with naked skin and fragile mothers.
My grandma reached out one last time and chose to leave during the short moment when people were making a phone call, or briefly stepped out of the room – the weight of exhaustion heavy. In silence, we, the women of her world proceeded to touch her hands and her cheeks and looked upon her soft skin – listened for more breath, but none came. And while we all breathed a sigh of release and the sun stream in behind us a new hole took shape.
How do we take care of others around us? How has it changed you? Have you had this duty and a privilege?