Don’t Tell Me How Rocky the Sea Is—Just Bring in the Ship

Christine Jarvis - Toronto, Ontario Canada
Entered on October 24, 2010
Christine Jarvis
Themes: courage, illness, love
  • Listen to This I Believe on RadioPublic

  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

One night in fall 2007, after being newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, my mother sat with me on her bed, both of us crying. The words “nursing home” were never said, but were clearly on Mom’s mind.

“All I want is to stay here with you,” Mom told me. “But whatever you have to do, I will understand.”

My mother was from Friesland in the Netherlands and lived her life by the Dutch motto, “Don’t tell me how rocky the sea is—just bring in the ship.”

“No nursing home—not now, not ever,” I said to myself that night.

When it was no longer safe for Mom to be alone, I hired a caregiver to stay with her while I was at work. I took the other shifts: four o’clock until next morning, weekends, holidays. Daughter/caregiver 24/7.

One day, Mom said, “Why do you call me Mom? I like it, but why do you do that?”

I answered, “Because you are my mother.”

The look on her face told me she didn’t believe me; she no longer knew who I was. It didn’t matter—I knew.

All too quickly, we went through the stages of the disease: complete memory loss, aggression, fear that grew to paranoia, loss of speech, sleepless nights, and a physical deterioration that soon saw Mom bedbound and incontinent. Pressure sores, loss of appetite, and an inability to swallow even liquids soon followed.

Caregivers tell each other to “never let them see you cry.” Horsefeathers! I was losing my mother. Why shouldn’t I cry? I was sad beyond measure; why shouldn’t my mother know that?

I slept more often in Mom’s bed than in my own room. Mom often drifted off to sleep stroking my arm or patting me gently on the shoulder. She didn’t know who I was, but she could recognize sadness when she saw it, and still, in her motherly role, she offered what comfort she could.

Finally, knowing the end could be only weeks away, I took compassionate leave from work. My leave started on September 14, a Tuesday. A friend came to stay overnight, determined to support me in supporting my mother. My friend took first watch that first night. In the early hours of Wednesday, my friend woke me and said, “Your mother’s breathing has changed. I think you should come.”

I went to Mom’s room, crawled into the bed beside her, and held her. I couldn’t believe she was dying—not on the first day of my being home with her. It wasn’t supposed to be that soon. Within minutes, though, Mom was gone.

Most of us won’t do great things in life, but I believe in doing the small things we are called upon to do. Rocky sea or calm, we can bring in the ship with grace and courage. I couldn’t stop Mom’s Alzheimer’s journey once it started, but I could make the journey with her. I couldn’t hold back the inevitable, but I could hold my mother in my arms when she reached her journey’s end.

On September 15, 2010, at the age of eighty-four, Jannie Jarvis died peacefully in her own bed in her own home, in her daughter’s arms. Calm seas and safe harbor, Mom.

 

Christine Jarvis was born and lives in Toronto, Canada. She is a contributing writer at Suite101.com, and she writes a blog called Once a Caregiver. Ms. Jarvis’s interests include reading mysteries and mainstream and historical fiction, social justice, human dignity, strong women, aging with challenges, and lifelong learning. She lists being Jannie’s daughter and Nancy’s friend among her achievements.