A few weeks ago, around the time of my birthday, I received a phone call from one of my cousins. We don’t get the opportunity of seeing one another nearly as often as we’d like, so a telephone visit was a real treat. During our conversation, she mentioned that she wished her mother were still here, so I would have someone to talk to about my issues and concerns as a caregiver. Sadly, she passed away right after my husband’s heart bypass surgery, so I was unable to come to her funeral. The irony struck me: she left this earth just as my caregiving journey was beginning. I was stunned when my cousin mentioned how long she had taken care of my uncle. She was a caregiver for 20 years….two decades! I never took all that in….possibly because I was a child through most of it, and possibly because being a caregiver was not on my radar at the time, but the fact that she cared for my uncle for so long really spoke to her strength, loyalty and stamina. I wondered what it was like for her: who did she confide in? Where did she draw her strength? My uncle was a doctor, so I would hope his collleagues helped her find resources. This was in the 60’s – 80’s, so I’m not sure if there were any support groups she could join. Where did she find her fortitude? Perhaps she was able to turn to another caregiver in my family…her own mother.
In October, 2013, we had the pleasure and honor to attend a reception for the opening of a Museum at the old hospital that my grandfather founded back in the 20’s. As we toured the old building, many memories came back: the little room where I had gotten all my immunizations, the offices that my grandfather and uncle occupied, the old kitchen where we got our ice cream after our immunizations. It was a great tour down memory lane. There was one room, though, that I didn’t recognize, yet my cousins lingered there. An older cousin noticed my confusion and told me that it was the room where my grandfather had stayed once he had gotten too sick for my grandmother to care for at home. I knew my grandfather had died of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when I was just one year old, but I had never thought about his struggle with cancer: how long had he been sick? Did he receive Chemo? He had also been a doctor, so I would think he had access to the treatments he needed. The home movies I had seen showed a man who loved to hunt and fish, who treated patients whether they could pay him in money or chickens. I could not picture him bedridden, nor could I picture the grandmother that I knew spending her days caring for him in that way.
The common thread between these two wonderful men, who were so instrumental in my life, in both memory and actuality, were these two strong women. The side of them that were caregivers were not clearly visible to me in my growing up years, but their strength, gentle patience, tolerance, faith and sweet humor were still in my memories. I am sure those same traits served them well when they had to care for the men in their lives. Now that I take my place in this dynasty as a 3rd generation caregiver, I hope I have inherited some of those traits.
I’ll bet that if each of us stopped to think about it, we could think of someone in our life, be it a friend or a family member who was (or still is) a caregiver. Someone we can draw strength from and get and share information with. I do wish I could have known this side of my aunt and grandmother, as it now puts them into an entirely different light. I am very thankful to have been able to record our experiences, so that questions can be answered, and hope and support can be found for future generations. Maybe it will be a lasting legacy….a legacy of hope.