Eleven years ago, I gained the title of caregiver, when my mom was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer. As a mother of young children, I also gained the distinction of being part of the sandwich generation, caring for both children and aging parents at the same time.
In the United States, there are more than 40 million American caregivers like me who support aging parents, ill spouses, children, and other loved ones. Caregivers provide billions of dollars’ worth of long-term care and caregiving services each year. This November, we recognize the contributions of caregivers across the nation during National Family Caregivers month.
Like many caregivers, my role changed over the years depending on mom’s needs. I have been by my mom’s side advocating for optimal care and her quality of life at every surgery, consult, and hospitalization and nearly all of the hundreds of labs, infusions, appointments, chemotherapies, scans, blood infusions, and injections. Along the way, I have “played” the role of doctor, nurse, bather, aide, pharmacist, therapist, scheduler, wheelchair pusher, travel agent, makeup artist, hairdresser, interior designer, gift wrapper, driver, nutritionist, chef, event planner, comforter, but mostly the role of student of life.
Being a caregiver has been one of my most proud titles, and the responsibility of the role impacted me and my family profoundly. It is in this role that I became a student of the remarkable woman I got to call Mom. She could find joy and laughter in the worst of circumstances and always lived in the moment. She knew that memories were the things that would carry on her family and prioritized memory making in ways we would not have done without her illness. I saw what true courage and strength was, not only in the ways that we often associate with cancer, but in her humility and trust in others at her most vulnerable moments. I learned most from my mom that people are the most important thing in this life, and she made a point to make everyone feel special, worthy, and loved, including me.
On Thursday, November 19, 2020, my mom peacefully exited this world in her home surrounded by those who loved her, just as she had wanted. This month I lose the title of “caregiver,” but I will not lose its lessons.