Driving from Panama City after my flight from Miami to visit my mother, I realized that this was my 25th trip since she had a stroke in December 2006. It was mind-boggling. Never thought to keep track, but apparently my brain was doing just that. Usually, I just concentrate on the task at hand: we need a new nurse, she has had a set back or it’s her birthday. Overthinking gets me nowhere and I try to avoid it. This time, because the trip was so unexpected and I was driving myself the 3 1/2 hours right after my flight……..I just let my mind wander.
I remembered my first one, just after New Year’s 2007, frantic with worry because we still didn’t know if she was going to make it. I stayed for a month. Too much to absorb, decide and do, every day brought new challenges and I was exhausted when I got back home. I remembered the last one, at Easter. It was a sort of reunion with my sisters, time to reassess her care. Nothing new, since we have been doing this on and off for the last two years.
Then I tried to bring on the trips that were just for pleasure, even if they have been fewer. Her 85th birthday, her 90th, the year my children spent a week with her, the trips I took to spent time with my sisters. Unfortunately, there have been more trips when we just went to find someone to care for her. She now requires 24 hour care and it is harder to find anyone willing to work at a private home. It is not an easy job and I must confessed, I wouldn’t do it.
When I arrived, my sister had been alone with her all weekend. She had some part-time help, but hardly enough. She was exhausted and so was I. After a shower and something to eat, we settled to watch the final of the US Open. She prefers Djokovic, I am a Federer fan. We had a glass of wine and pondered on our choices and decided we had few.
Monday we stared our search. Interviews, visits to the different nursing schools and hospitals: repeat, repeat, repeat. Not easy and so frustrating. Still it needed to be done and we did it. This was not different from other trips, but at the same time, it was. We considered alternatives we never considered before. We were open to everything and anything that would give her the care she has been receiving all these years.
At night, when we had the time to go over our day, we talked about the cards we have been dealt. Three daughters, all married to foreigners and living away from Panama, with lives as different as you can imagine from the reality of our mother’s life. All trying to get her the best care, no matter the cost and struggling to keep up with everything.
Yes, 25 trips…….it seems unreal. Even if I do remember some of them, others are just a passing flash in my mind. We have put so many things in the back burner, it’s not worth thinking about it. We do what we most, but I have learned a few lessons and I am grateful.
I have learned that taking care of our parents is the harder thing we can do. We become parents ourselves and our parents not always become willing children. Taking care of our parents when they live far from us becomes an impossibly hard task that absorbs us, drags us into a stressful and exhausting journey that we cannot stop. I have learned that no matter how many times you think you have solved the problem, it will come back more complicated than before.
Working on such a delicate balance as is the care of an aging and ill parent is something beyond any explanation I can give here. If they happen to live far from you, them the task becomes monumental. Those who are in the same boat, would be the ones to understand; those who are not, I wish you don’t have to see yourselves in that position.
I have learned that there is satisfaction in what you do, but you could be too discombobulated to understand it. I learned that every little step forward can bring more than one step backward……there is no escaping this!!!
The 9 days past quickly, there was no time to think too much, no time to feel sorry for myself. We made new arrangements, we hope they work and we prepare ourselves for when they do not. That is the biggest lesson.
When it was time to leave, I just drove back to the city. Trying not to think about much while I drove the 3 1/2 hours. Finally got to the hotel in the city and I felt oddly calm. I had no doubts in my mind that the care we have given our mother couldn’t have been better. Since there is only one of us living in Panama, it is more than amazing what we have been able to accomplish.
Here is to the next 25 trips!!!!