On the Art of Caring for a Disabled Mother
A few nights ago, I was asked by my father to come in the evening and shower my mother. My mom suffered a severe stroke in 2008, which left her disabled and in need of care. During the first couple of years, my dad and I would help her shower. But for the past several years, it has been my dad who showers her every night. Showering my mom takes roughly an hour in total, including preparations before and all the way up to having her settled in her bed. For everything my dad does, day in and day out, caring for my mom, cooking every day, washing her, taking care of every single need of hers, is something I have come to deeply respect. I can write pages upon pages about his dedication to her, but that is for another time. For now, I’d like to write about the experience of giving my mom a shower. As I mentioned, dad called me to come and give my mom a shower; his lower back has been hurting for several days, and the pain became unbearable.
It is painful to see my mother being so fragile, completely dependent on me and my dad for the simplest activities. A shower is one of the most intimate actions an individual performs, and to have someone else help you with it must be embarrassing, if not humiliating. For the whole time I helped my mom perform these simple, intimate tasks, I was single-mindedly focused on each movement. The movements of my own hands, arms, back; my feet, my whole body, and the corresponding movements of my mother’s arms, hands, fingers. Her bad arm. Her bad foot. The way the water splashed on her body. The way she washed herself with soap lathered on her good hand. The way she moved from left to right, from right to left.
It was a ritual of intimacy between an able body and a disabled body; between mother and daughter. It was humbling for me, both of us acutely aware of our reversed roles, the sadness the moments held. But we managed to pull it off without any tears. We even laughed when I got the water in the wrong direction, splashing my clothes. I could see the gratitude in her eyes; it was as if she understood I was doing it out of love, not duty. Because that’s the attitude I came with. Caring for a disabled parent for years can have its frustrating moments. I admit, sometimes it feels like a burden, tying me down to one place, especially as I am an only child. But that evening, I came consciously with love to her. I wanted her to have the most comfortable experience of me giving her a shower. And from the crinkle in her eyes when she smiled at me, wordlessly, I believe it was a pleasant experience for her. As pleasant as such an experience can get.
Back home, I sat down in my living room, and cried. They were not tears of sadness or happiness. They were simply tears of cleansing, tears of gratitude. And I am thankful for being part of such -beautifully intense moments. Moments that ease, even if only a little, the feeling my mom has to live with every moment of every day: the feeling of complete dependence on my dad and me for every action.
- This post wasn’t edited, it is published raw. It isn’t easy writing about such personal and emotional issues. Still, I hope I was able to convey something of what I felt and intended to write about.
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