My mom practiced what she preached

“Come on Erin, it’s time to go,” I heard my mom call to me from the kitchen. It was time to leave to visit my grandma at the nursing home. It was the only place I had ever known her to live in, and the type of home she had lived in for most of my mother’s life as well. I didn’t mind going to see her even though the conversation rarely left the topics of what she won at Bingo night, when she got her hair and nails done last, and an occasional update on what my siblings and I were doing. Occasionally grandma came to our house for special events and holidays, but the frequency of visiting her at the nursing home was increasing. I was the only child left at home so it was natural that my mom always invited me to go with her. While driving, my mom explained that she wanted to start visiting my grandma every Sunday from now on. She didn’t really have a reason for why, just that she felt a responsibility and desire to spend more time with her so she wasn’t alone all the time.

At the time I didn’t realize the impact of my mother’s example. I enjoyed the extra one-on-one time I had talking with my mom in the car and I felt happier walking out of the care center after visiting with my grandma, but more than that, my mom taught me a lesson in caring for others through her sacrifice of time despite receiving little reciprocation in the relationship. My grandma had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in her early twenties, when my mom was a small child. My grandpa had passed away in a tragic accident, leaving my mom, who was the oldest, to take on kind of a maternal role with her 3 younger siblings at a very young age. The children were often separated, living with aunts and uncles, until their grandmother cared for them as teenagers. As a result of my grandmother’s mental illness and my mother’s physical separation from her, they did not have a typical mother-daughter relationship. My mom couldn’t visit her as frequently when she had a young family; however, at this time in my mother’s life she felt a strong desire to spend time with her own mom because she believed my grandma needed the connection. I always admired my mom’s explanation that even though my grandma had not been able to support her emotionally or physically during her life, she had given my mom life and did the best she could until she could no longer provide what they needed. She was still her mom and because of this my mom had a sense of devotion as daughter. My mom found joy in learning about my grandma from aunts’ and uncles’ stories. We knew she had loved to sing and was given lead roles in plays in high school. She was the second oldest and only girl, with 5 brothers. Occasionally we would get out the black and white pictures of her as a young mother when she was with my mom and her siblings, and talk about the memories they had of her.

Through these weekly visits before my grandma passed away I saw my mom care for my grandma. She would make sure she had enough clothes and shoes, bring makeup for her, talk with the nurses about how her time was spent,
check in on her medical appointments, and ensure that someone was helping her attend church. We would often walk around the care center with her and make our way to the dining room to be with her during dinner. My mom also encouraged me to play the piano for her when we had the opportunity. I sensed the devotion my mom had for my grandma, not out of obligation, but out of true respect for her mother’s role in her life. My mom also showed profound empathy about the difficult environment my grandma had been in when she got sick, and when anyone challenged my grandma’s actions at that time my mom would explain that there’s no way anyone could truly understand how difficult it must have been for her.

Although the memories of those frequent trips have faded over the last 11 years since my grandma passed away, I hope that what I learned from my mom never fades. I hope that I can look to those who have a need for caring, and act to help them. We never truly know what others are going through or what has led them to make the decisions they have in their life. And while sometimes those decisions confuse us and it becomes easy to criticize, what matters most is that we love them and do what we can to care for them. Thank you mom for showing me what thoughtfulness can do.

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