For nearly eight years after my mother had a stroke, I lived to help my father make her life the very best it could be. Few coworkers during those years knew of my life outside the walls of academia. Only a handful of very close friends recognized the persistent stress that had lodged in my neck and jaw.
Close to the end of her life I wrote a book, a memoir. The purpose was to somehow keep my mother with me, with my father, with my siblings forever. She did not walk, skip or dance as she had. She did not comment on anyone in view as she had. She had even lost her voice to aphasia. Without the perpetual stream of words punctuated with sighs and moans many days felt empty. My goal was to preserve her somehow, as she had been. The way I chose to accomplish that was by memory. Grace was my mother’s first name. I accidentally discovered a picture of her standing on a ledge overlooking a large pond; straight, on two feet, confident and full of expectation. Grace on the Ledge seemed the book’s natural title.
Before the book was sent to print, my editor wisely recommended I investigate titles in the memoir genre to promote readership. The word ‘caregiver’ came up in every search. After much deliberation and discussion, A Caregiver’s Memoir was added to the book’s cover. If a reader searches on that key word, reads my book, and feels some connection, some acceptance and support in that unsolicited role, I am glad. But I have never felt comfortable wearing the label.
I consider myself a caretaker, not a caregiver. Some might describe my actions as giving. But I am the one who has taken and continues to take so much. I am grateful for all of it.
Days I am not on campus teaching are reserved for appointments and outings with my dad. He is 94 and trust me, totally in charge of life. On the schedule for today: blood work to precede a routine checkup next week, the barber for his signature buzz cut, and a first-time stop at the new Duncan Donuts on the south side of town. Eating a donut after he kept close track of his sugar intake before blood work has become a tradition. Until today, I would pop in the shop, stock up on a half dozen chocolate frosted yummies and take them back to Dad’s place. Today’s visit was a first.
Only two cars in the lot, I unfolded his rolator and we made our way down the ramp and inside. The menu hung on the wall with animated video panels in between the list of coffee varieties and breakfast fare.
“Do they have anything like regular coffee?” Dad leaned over to ask.
“Yes, way at the top, roasted coffee”.
“Boy, you need binoculars to read that far.”
Straining my eyes behind progressive lenses to locate the word ‘latte’ on the list, I totally understood.