Shannon Bardwell: Not for sissies

August 16, 2010 11:01:00 AM

Shannon Bardwell - [email protected]


Momma was taken to the emergency room; when I arrived the nurse said, "Follow me."  


You know it can''t be good when the nurse ushers you into a tiny room with two chairs, a small table and a Gideon Bible. She said, "The doctor will be with you in a moment." I picked up the Bible; flipped to the 23rd Psalm. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil ... " I knew I was there, in that valley. 


Caretaking had been difficult and often I wanted to quit. There were times I felt that I couldn''t go on, not one more minute. Caretaking a parent is not for sissies. 


Now I watch friends take care of their parents and my heart aches for them. Some say it''s like taking care of a child again. It is anything but like taking care of a child. A child learns how to do something new every day; an aging parent forgets how to do something every day. Children grow out of their fears of the dark; a parent grows into them. Caretaking is not for sissies. 


After much protestation I joined a caretakers support group. I had thrown the phone number away three times, and then I called and asked to come. Mom insisted that I sleep with a beeper. I couldn''t sleep with a beeper, and I couldn''t tell my momma "no." The group laughed at me and gave me permission not to sleep with a beeper and not to tell my momma anything. I felt like a sissy. 


Toni is taking care of three aging parents, her own two and her mother-in-law. At the social security office she waited in line for hours. She finally got to an agent, only to be told she would have to bring her father in because they couldn''t verify that she was his daughter. She explained that he was in a nursing home and comatose. A debate ensued; Toni finally screamed, "Do you think I would go through all of this if I wasn''t his daughter? Don''t you think there are easier ways of committing Medicare fraud than this?" The agent said, "Next." 


I watched the movie "Hanging Up" obsessively during my caretaking days. Meg Ryan plays a daughter taking care of an aging and senile Walter Matthau. You''d think it''d be a downer to watch a movie like that, but I kept telling myself that if Meg could do it then I could. I loved when Meg asked, "How can a man who can''t remember where he left his pants remember his daughter''s telephone number?" I wondered that myself.  


After dinner on what would be Mom''s last day I asked, "Momma, did we have a good day?" She looked me in the eye; "Yes, we did," she said. That night when she drew her last breathe, I realized that every single moment had been worthwhile.  


Cindy, I just want to encourage you; when all is said and done you''ll have no regrets. Cry if you must, laugh when you can. 


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.