I was cleaning out my car the other day when an old sticky note clogged the vacuum nozzle, sucked up from the crevice between the seats. On the paper were written two words: chicken and walker.
Finding this, I had to laugh at my discovery. Just as my messy car represented the way I’d had to prioritize my time away from taking care of myself while my mom was dying, this short shopping list stood for something else: the way life goes on, even in difficult times.
The particular day on which I wrote that list doesn’t stand out in my mind, but I remember well the tricky high-wire act of balancing my mom’s needs and my regular busy family life during her illness.
Clearly, on that day, I needed to get Mom a walker, and I needed to decide what was for dinner. Participating in everyday activities was a challenge during Mom’s illness. I didn’t have time for everything I wanted to get done, but at least attempting to do ordinary things kept me sane. Instead of being consumed by the crisis, I had an excuse to dip back into normal. Even when it was inconvenient and there were more pressing needs over at Mom’s house, it felt good to momentarily surround myself with the mundane treasures of everyday existence.
When I located a walker and brought it to my mother, she gave it dirty looks like she was trying to set it on fire using pyrokinesis. The rest of us were glad she had it. She had grown quite unsteady.
Watching Mom lose the ability to do even the simplest things (at one point she fervently told me she would rather be scrubbing toilets) helped me appreciate “the little things in life.” Sometimes even vacuuming is a luxury. Or cooking chicken.
I don’t specifically remember making chicken that day, though I’m sure I did. People had to eat. At times I felt surprised and even a little guilty to find myself hungry, like my desire for food meant I had lost sight of the more important things going on at the time. But food is important, too.
My dad and I quickly discovered that as caregivers, we couldn’t give much unless we took care of ourselves. There were a few encounters with the bedside commode that extinguished our appetites, but for the most part we ate. We drank. Sometimes we ate too little. Sometimes we drank too much. But sometimes we were even a little merry.
It was a poignant time. Caring for someone in such an intimate way is a profound privilege – and an enormous responsibility. There we were, my original nuclear family – my mom, my dad, and myself – together, making it work one last time. I cooked the chicken at home and brought my mom the walker she needed. Nobody starved, and nobody fell. I did the best I possibly could. And I think it was enough.