Elderly couple look at one another.


A Letter to My Mother, A Caregiver Once Again For Her Ailing Husband

May 10, 2018

I don’t think this is what you expected when you were a 26-year-old nurse in Vancouver falling in love with the best head of hair in the hospital. You didn’t know that four children and endless hours of parenting later, you’d be playing caregiver in your seventies. And I’m sure you didn’t expect it to be your husband you’d be caring for. 

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Dad, living with dementia, has needs that parallel those of a young child. He has to be fed every couple of hours, needs help getting dressed, getting washed and going to bed. He follows you around calling you by that nickname he gave you when you wore your pink sweater to work — “doll! doll!” Even a bit of privacy for the washroom can be hard to get. It feels so familiar: Dad likes an outing every day. And since I’m a mother caught in the martyr cycle, I understand that no matter how much your back hurts, you make sure you have something planned.

When he’s been up three nights in a row and I see your face a little paler than usual, I remember the early years with my kids, the desperate attempts to keep my cool.

I was too young to analyze your nurturing techniques the first time around and now that I see you with him I’m touched in so many ways. I see what we have in common as caregivers, and how much your care shaped our family. I see sides of you that I must’ve seen when I was four, but they’d been forgotten and now seem brand new.

Dad’s condition has moved a lot faster than we thought it would, hasn’t it? We (your children) spiraled at first, not knowing how to stop it, process it, live with it. But you remained stoic as we threw options at you. When I was a new mother I got so much unsolicited advice and it often sent me sideways, but as a caregiver for dad you had a plan. You stayed the course, and you’ve been right, through it all.

Thank you for giving up your golden years for his. I know you’d rather have no free time than see him alone, anxious or worried with someone that might not be quite as patient. I know that, because you’ve instilled that sense of duty in us. I also know that your caregiving has been protecting us. You’ve taken the weight off of your children’s shoulders because we know our dad is home and loved.

The style in which you built our family is one that has been handed down and replicated in all four of your children’s families. We’ve created families that hold children as the foundation, while also giving those kids the space to jump and fall. We relish our children and each other’s. We are imitating something that was ingrained in us at a young age, and now as an adult I’m seeing it in practice in your care for dad.

Your determination in keeping dad home for as long as possible, no matter how many hours a day you’re putting in reminds me of our childhood. Summer camp in our house was a threat, not something to look forward to — why would you want to go anywhere else? We have so many memories of dad playing silly games with us, but you shaped our caregiving with your daily work. And our caregiving defines our lives.

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When you lose your patience in the early mornings, or when he’s afraid to take a step on his own, I hear myself. The things that tense your nerves are the same ones that get to me. When he’s been up three nights in a row and I see your face a little paler than usual, I remember the early years with my kids, the desperate attempts to keep my cool. But sometimes you lose it, and that’s okay. I do too. The notion that perfection is not only unattainable, but undesirable, is a strong piece of connective tissue in our family. Nary a bed is made in our homes, and we’d argue till our unmade deathbeds that our families are better for it.

Mostly though, what stands out to me, is your tenderness. I don’t know if tenderness is a memory I have of you. I don’t think it’s what children store away. I think they store the laughs, and the meals, and maybe some fights, but the tenderness gets taken for granted. I do know you’re the best person to be around when I have a cold because you act like it’s the flu. I’ve always known your wit, brilliance, cynicism and sense of humour are unparalleled. But now I see how tender you must’ve been with us and my heart explodes. I’ve got the most incredible mother, and now as an adult I’ve discovered there’s more to her than I ever imagined.

Article Author Yasmine Abbasakoor
Yasmine Abbasakoor

Read more from Yasmine here.

Yasmine Abbasakoor was a television development executive before leaving to pursue her dream job of being a stay-at-home mum. After five years of living it up in the sandbox and laundry room, she’s ready to share her myriad of musings with the world once again. Connect with Yasmine in her kitchen (she’s the one standing behind the island) or on Linkedin.

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