i remember when my parents brought my infant sister home from the hospital. i was four years old and did not see anything very impressive about the tiny creature who was to be my little sister, except that a few friends of my family brought a toy for me in addition to whatever they had brought for the baby.
most of my very early memories are of mary being carried and cared for. my mom recounts a time when she had to retrieve a clean gown for the baby. she was preparing to bathe her and had laid her on a dressing table next to the kitchen sink and instructed me to lay a hand on her to make sure she didn’t fall.
i’m not sure how it happened, but when mom returned, mary was hanging upside down and i was holding onto the hem of her gown for dear life! it was the first of many times in her first year or so that i was the recipient of a tongue-lashing for something that, at the least, wasn’t my fault, and, at the most, was actually my sister’s fault.
rather than resenting her though, i secretly became the personal guardian of her safety. as she got a little older we shared a room with twin beds. i used to lay awake sometimes worrying about her, listening to her little sleep noises. there were times, of course, when we didn’t get along well, or fought over toys and such. but, when night fell, i always felt bad for my part in the arguing. i always felt the need to assure myself that she was ok. i had a real fear that something might happen to her.
love for my sister had grown large in my heart. isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? while we were having our own babies we had much in common. at family get-togethers we shared stories and laughed together at the hilarious antics of family members, some intentional, some not, but all worth the price of admission.
as our children grew up and our lives began to change, there was a time when we weren’t the best of friends. though the love remained, we were very different and navigated carefully the space between us for a while. then, as our parents grew older, we grew back together again.
two changes seemed to facilitate our love becoming dominant over our differences – our own personal growth, age and maturity, and our parents’ failing health. my dad was the first to move into a time of life in which he required the care of a loved one. since he and i both lived in the greater tucson area, i became his caretaker.
i spent time with him in grocery stores, drug stores, doctor’s offices, scary hospital admissions and rehabs to help him regain enough strength to go back home. it was exhausting, especially because i was in the early stages of several disabilities myself. in the end he moved in with me for what was to be the last year of his life.
i had reservations concerning the parade of “helpers” through my house; an aide to do his laundry and shop for his groceries (i no longer had the energy), the fellow who brought oxygen refills, someone who came to fit him with shoes, and a nurse who treated a seriously infected wound on his heal, etc, etc. i had loved living alone. those things paled, however, against the love we held for one-another. though it was no easy time to get through, i am eternally grateful for that year i had with him.
somewhere along the way email became a new and great way to communicate to my sister what was happening with dad. as each emergency unfolded, i would call or email to keep her informed of his latest hospitalizations and other health issues. he died in 2007.
after my dad moved on to whatever is next for him, it seemed no time at all before mary began to notice some memory deficiencies in my mom. this, and other health-related issues, progressed over several years during which mary tried hard to convince mom to move to assisted living. she finally agreed after she accidently set the microwave on fire. mary and my mom both live on the east coast, so mary became her caretaker. the phone calls and emails were (and are still) reversed; my sister to me about my mother.
mary has had an exceptionally difficult time. she still works at a full-time job, where budget cuts have removed many employees and added a great deal to her workload. her husband, who is truly a god-send, has had some serious heart issues. her two grown boys have moved in…and out…and in…and out again. and last, but most definitely not least is my mother’s temperament. she is not the easiest person to get along with. at one point, she was calling my sister at work up to nine times a day.
along with her issues come constant complaints, misplaced anger, attempts to hang onto control, and refusal to even try to learn ways to help herself adjust to her nearly complete blindness. she has lost two expensive hearing aids by insisting on looking for them (rather than waiting until someone is available to help her) and then stepping on them because she can’t see.
a couple of weeks ago mom fell and for a couple of days was extremely confused, asking my sister’s husband if he knew her mary. last wednesday evening i had a nice phone conversation with my mom. she was able to stay on the phone longer than usual and sounded pretty good. after we hung up, she fell asleep in her recliner. when she awoke, she went to her dresser to find pajamas so she could go to bed. she fell again, somehow almost directly backward.
her head hit the open dresser drawer and her scalp was split open with a gash nearly eight inches long. a nurse found her lying in a pool of blood. had the nurse not happened by, she would have bled out on the floor. my sister arrived at the emergency room in time to help clean the blood from her hair so that the entire wound was visible.
blood spurted from a nicked vessel. her white pillow was saturated, red. the picture in my head is very upsetting. though mom is doing well (on her way to rehab), my sister is having flashbacks to that er experience. her state of stress and exhaustion have reached a dangerous level. and i find myself worrying about losing her.
which brought forward the memories of so long ago, when i laid awake worrying about her. over the years, as our parents health deteriorated, we have become increasingly close. there is a bond we now share, an understanding not possible at a younger age. it really is all about the love.