I’ve been writing about caring for my husband when he had multiple sclerosis, but I also cared for my mother during the last years of her life. It was a strange shift in rolls. As an adult child, I took it for granted that she could take care of herself; in fact, I never thought much about it. But as she aged and her medical problems grew, her need for care grew, too. As time went on, more and more, I was the one in charge. Eventually, I had to place her in a board-and-care home near me.
I often felt like an inept juggler as I tried to balance the demands of my job, my commitments to my husband, and the needs of my mother. My husband was well then, it was before he had MS, and I felt torn between doing what he wanted and doing what I felt I should be doing for my mother. I would have liked her to come live with us, but he didn’t want that. And to be honest, it wasn’t entirely what I wanted, either. His three daughters had just moved out and were on their own. We both wanted time for ourselves.
Even though I spent a good deal of time with my mother and watched over her needs, I still felt guilty. I felt selfish and guilty when I put my marriage first. She didn’t feel that way; she always told me how much she appreciated all I did for her and what a good daughter I was. But I knew I should do more, yet, somehow, I couldn’t.
In truth, I handled all the logistics well, such as taking care of her finances and overseeing her medical needs. We spent time together and shared wonderful moments when we talked deeply about things important to her. Still, I wish I could have been more emotionally present those times I was preoccupied with my own problems. With a stressful job and sometimes-demanding husband, I sometimes lacked the empathy I wish I could have shown her.
It’s a comfort to remember some words my cousin spoke to me when I was raising my three stepchildren and having a hard time: “Are you doing the best you can?” she asked. I replied that I was. “Well,” she said, “that’s all anyone can do.” Perhaps that applies to my care for my mother, too.