who’s the mum?

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.”

Little steps.

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.

Big steps.

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.

Little things.

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?



Filed under loss, parenting

11 responses to “who’s the mum?

  1. Ami

    What a beautiful post. Not only are you lucky to have your mum but she is clearly very lucky to have you as her daughter. xx

  2. What a beautiful piece, Jayne. You have me in tears – the honesty of the reality of the situation and the complete love you must have for your Mum. And she for you.

    I think the way you treat your parents when they really need you says a lot about you as a person, and the way you have been raised.

    My Mum has just lost both her parents, but before that she was helping to take care of them. A hard task when they live in Hobart and Mum is here in Melbourne. As well as holding down a full-time job, Mum has been flying backwards and forwards to do whatever she can to help her parents and ease the burden on her brother and sister.

    It’s a harsh reality of the way life goes around, but gosh it must be hard when you have a family to raise as well. xo

  3. Another great post. Nice work.

  4. seraphim75

    Firstly, a beautiful post. I had a glimpse into the world of caring for my parents late last year where my dad underwent a lifesaving triple bypass. It terrified me and taught me to dig deeper within myself. It also made me awesomely proud of the courage they both displayed at a painful and scary time for them both.

  5. Beautiful post, Jayne. Sounds like you have a wonderful relationship.
    Having kids has certainly brought me much closer to my mum, in ways I could not have imagined. She has been there for me every step of the way of my troubled motherhood journey. If she were to get sick, I hope I could care for her as well as you have cared for your mum.


  6. Your writing is so beautiful I can see you and your mum, laughing, co-conspirators in this game of life in which we are all dealt such different hands.

  7. What a beautiful post! Thanku for sharing Jayne! I think it’s true what you say about ur mum always being ‘the mum’ my mum is the same. They have something etched into their souls!

  8. A gorgeous post, Jayne. Your Mum is so lucky to have you.

    My parents are in their 80s, and now struggle with a few things. They’re very independent, but I really notice how long everything takes them when I head back to visit. They’re in Perth. I often feel bad that I can’t be there to help them out more. When I go, I clean their place well for them, help out as much as I can. Thankfully, they now have cleaner every fortnight, so I don’t have to worry about that so much now. And my sister lives close by, and takes them places and helps them with bills etc. But I still worry about them.

    Your Mum is not only lucky to have you, you’re lucky to have your Mum. But you knew that already. 😉 xxx

  9. What a great post?
    I’m lucky to have Eight kids myself (single Dad)
    A couple of years ago the old MS hit me for six. Without the support of my children and the laughter of all my grandchildren I’d have been ‘stuffed’ as they say 🙂

    Your kids will see the example you set and be all the better for it I’m sure. None of us know what’s round the corner for us, but it’s a blessing when we have support we can truly ‘trust’.

    Good luck. Pete.

  10. Chris

    Jayne I am deeply touched by your story,

    I think the fairytale is that you grow up and live happily ever after, unfortunately life is seldom like that. But these events force you to adjust your priorities in life greatly.

    No doubt at 20 all your friends were out going to parties and you had other priorities. These events mould the person you are, you have persepective on what is truely important and what things are just frivolous. I remember at the time I was caring for mum I was in a petrol station and someone was whinging about the rise in petrol price by 10 cents, I thought to myself “hey mate I would love your problems”

    I was a primary carer for my mum in her final year of her battle with cancer. Her greatest concern was her dignity regarding going to the toilet and getting dressed.

    You have risen above such adversity, and you are wiser for it.

    All the best, Chris

  11. I too had tears as I read this. Great post and so well written.

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