This summer my sister Gina and I held the distinction of having two parents in the hospital at the same time. On top of that, they were in different hospitals; one hour apart. I was drawn to our Mother and my sister was pulled to our Dad. We didn't pressure each other. Our natural abilities paired with what each parent needed at the time.
Gina is a doctor in a teacher's clothing. I call her first when the girls are sick. Her diagnosis and remedy are always correct. She can read hospital monitors and converse with doctors as if she is their colleague. She retains what they tell her and is able to explain it to others. That's what my Father needed as he suffered with lung cancer. My mother needed an emotional touchstone while stranger after stranger ran test after test to determine whether she'd had a minor stroke as well as the status of her overall health.
Staying by my mother's side was not a conscious decision. I was a magnet and her needs; her heart were my base. Even in a hospital she held the homing device that guided me toward a soft place to fall.
That would've been all well and good if I wasn't also a mother of four, a wife, an adjunct professor, professional actress, small business owner, and writer who occasionally likes to sleep. ( My list is no longer than most people these days.)
In order to be there for my Mother I had to borrow from all of those areas at a cost. When I was with her, I felt guilt for not being with them and vice versa.
And it wasn't as if this was going to be temporary. After her one week hospital stay, we transferred her to a nursing home with a dementia unit. She would not return to the home she'd lived in for forty six years. I felt responsible for my Mother's (Mommy's--pronounced Mah-mee) well being as if she were one of my children. It wasn't until I embraced that notion that I found a way to manage the responsibility.
For all intents and purposes, she was a child; a dependent. I needed to accept that my mother was in line with my four other children. No, I didn't need to feed, clothe, and bathe her every day but if I opened my schedule to fit one more "child" than I wouldn't feel guilt over my attention being divided. (Or anyway, I'd feel much less guilt.)
Attention given to Mommy wasn't "taking from" it was "a part of" being a caretaker to my whole family. My heart was already open to taking care of Mommy. Embracing her as a dependent enabled me to open up my life and see a bigger picture.
Also, it didn't take away from my Mother's dignity, grace or everything she'd accomplished in her life that she needed my care. Circumstance had converted our relationship. I needed to let go of being "the child". That label no longer applied and I had to make a mental shift in my thinking in order to move forward.
I suppose I could have left my Mother's care to the nursing home but the magnetic pull was always there. (I will address the importance of due diligence and nursing home care in another post.)
The adoption of another dependent was the best way for me to take on my role as caregiver. A role that chose me but I was honored to play.