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.

I waited for the coffees and donut while Dad made his way to the far window and chose a comfortable seat at a low table.  I passed out the steaming java and he retrieved his chocolate break from the overnight fast.

He relaxed in the chair. “All we need is Mom and the paper.”

A reflexive smile curved on my face, then froze.

The coffee, the chocolate morning treat, Duncan Donuts.

My mom and dad visited their local DD outside of Washington D.C. for years. My children still remind me of the trips there with their Mamma and Pappa complete with detailed stories about how they could order anything they wanted off the menu no matter the time of day.

My next reflex was to look for a newspaper. Maybe then I could make things right, normal.

I couldn’t find a newspaper. I couldn’t make things normal. And that feeling of helplessness pinched my arms, again.

Grief is a word I avoid. There is so much to do every day, so much to appreciate. And I do not like the weight on my heart that sadness leaves. I understand grief, and as much as I am able, I avoid anything related to loss, to emptiness, to regret. That is my choice.

I miss my mom and feel my mom every minute of every day. I hear her laughter, her words of critical guidance, her stories, her music, her moods, her caring.

And I know Dad misses her too, every minute of every day.

We finished our errands and visited a bit before we parted, sharing a kind touch with an understanding smile.

Like so many of you who have cared for, are caring for, and will care for your loved ones, I understand each set of circumstances is unique. Like you, I know our whole world can change in a moment. And I appreciate the gratefulness we all feel at the end of another good day.