I was 20 when my mother became permanently disabled. One December Saturday the line between parent and child became blurred. It’s a challenge many of us will face – how do I parent my parents?
My Mum suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm at age 44 which left her with a permanent left side paralysis. At the time I was starting the second year of my journalism degree at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst. Our journey through her illness has, in many ways, paralleled my journey as a parent.
Beyond the realms of hope Mum survived two complex brain surgeries. In those earliest days she was as helpless as a newborn – hairless and feeding on liquids. There were doctors and flowers and holy water. Relatives came to visit and we spoke in soft voices as we gathered around to see her – this miracle of life.
Her first weeks post-surgery were spent in a local hospital but it became apparent that an extended stay in a rehabilitation facility would enable her to achieve her maximum potential. On that first night, as I said goodbye and left her crying in her wheelchair, I glimpsed my future. Years later, while saying goodbye to my tearful three-year-old on her first day of pre-school, I felt a certain déjà vu.
During the six months of rehab I studied all week and travelled to Sydney to visit Mum each weekend. The staff would inform us of her progress.
“This week she has been learning to use a pen.”
“Today she went swimming.”
“She is able to eat with the others now.”
But the day I remember most vividly is when we arrived at the hospital and a nurse with a playful smile said, “Your Mum has something to show you.”
In the next room Mum was waiting in her wheelchair. “Okay,” said the nurse as she helped Mum to her feet, “Show them.”
The nurse let go and Mum took her first steps alone – for the second time in her life.
We all cried and clapped and told her how wonderful she was.
After many struggles and a whole lifetime of tears, Mum now lives independently not too far from my home. As a family we try to share the care around and part of my role is to take Mum shopping every fortnight. I’m sure it’s one of the highlights of her calendar and – I never thought I’d say this – it has become one of mine.
It’s not always easy. We usually miss the disabled parking spaces, and little kids running on her left side freak her out… but we laugh. We laugh at ourselves and the bother we get into as we try to push a trolley and gather her groceries. We laugh at the way she always says, “Don’t let me get any extras this week!” as she picks up an extra packet of chocolate biscuits and some lollies for the kids. She always shouts me lunch.
After lunch I try not to rush off to my own family and we sit and chat. Occasionally we’ll delve deeper than our usual gossip and she will tell me stories of the days before she was a mum – tales of girlfriends and music and surfer boys. I picture her dancing on strong legs.
As I care for my Mum I sometimes feel burdened, and there are times when I wonder what it would be like if she had been able to hold my babies or have them for sleepovers like other Grandmas. But I have come to understand that caring for a parent can be a privilege – a way of giving back. I wouldn’t swap my Mum for quids.
And do you know what else I have discovered? She will always be The Mum.
In what ways do you care for your parents? Do you find it a challenge as you tend to your own family?