The last couple of years have been extremely trying. My mother’s Alzheimer’s disease has progressed at a rapid pace. Two years ago I helped my father put her in a nursing home. My sister and I admitted her because it was too hard for my father to do. The decision that I helped my father make that previous September had been just as difficult.
Then just fourth months later, in May of that same year, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was given six to nine months to live. He opted for hospice only— no surgery, no chemo, and no radiation. He died just seven weeks later. He spent his final days at home as he wanted and I was fortunate to be there with him.
I am the oldest of five. Many years earlier my parents decided that if needed, I would handle their health and financial matters in their final years. So the financial matters after my father’s death fell to me. The next six months were full of paper work, sorting through my parents’ belongings, putting their house on the market and myriad other tasks and decisions for my siblings and me. I also kept up with my mother’s needs: her finances, her care issues, and frequent visits.
In these months, I hardly had a spare moment. I realized later that due to all the demands, I wasn’t able to fully grieve the loss of my father. I never thought I would have the strength to handle the loss of one of my parents, and yet all the things required of me during this time pushed the experience away from me.
Now over a year and a half has gone by. We sold their house last August. My mother’s condition has deteriorated further, but has somewhat stabilized in the last 4 months. Various pieces of my parents’ furniture and other keepsakes adorn my house and are with me every day.
My parents too are with me every day. I believe in what my parents taught me. And I don’t mean by their words, but I mean I believe in what they taught me by their deeds.
My dad taught me to be organized and focused, just as he was. He kept the family finances and was meticulous in keeping a “to do” list. He always had a plan. He taught me to be optimistic. He treated each day as a fresh opportunity and kept going through difficult times. He taught me to be strong. He had to be strong to persevere during my mother’s bouts of severe depression which put her in the hospital twice before I was twelve. It was rough on him and I know he thought of leaving her, but he didn’t, as he couldn’t do that to five children. Loyalty was something else I learned from him.
My mother eventually got help with her depression, and made a lot of progress towards managing this disease, but it never left her completely. My mother is very different from my father, but what she taught me is just as important.
She taught me the importance of giving and to reach out to those in need. She volunteered her time at my elementary school and at our church. We visited the patients at the local county nursing home on a regular basis and sang Christmas carols during the holidays. Before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, my mother routinely donated clothes she no longer needed not to Goodwill, but to the low income apartment complex several blocks from her house. My mother lived by a strong moral compass— her Catholic faith guided her sense of what was right and wrong.
Finally, both my parents were supportive of their children. They encouraged my siblings and me in sports, academics, and music. Later on in our lives they supported our career choices, choices of spouses, decisions on where to live, and some big decisions several of us made (one served in the army in Korea, one went on a hunger strike to help a Soviet dissident, and one donated a kidney to a non-relative). They were also there for me and my two young children when I found myself raising them alone after the untimely death of my first husband.
This is the best way I can think to truly pay tribute to them. Dad and Mom, what you taught me I believe in deeply. I believe in all these things not only in my head, by in my heart, for I have internalized them. These qualities— strength, organization, focus, loyalty giving, doing what’s right, and being supportive, have helped me every day and while I have not perfected them, they have also made me a better person. They were part of you and because of you, I have made them part of me.
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