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Posts Tagged ‘caregiving’

originally in The Huff Post/Fifty

I am parked at a light when I notice a bumper sticker on the SUV in front of me. It reads:

Does this ass/make my/car look fat?

The words are stacked on top of each other and to the right of them is a small circle with the clownish face of Donald Trump.

I am running errands with my elderly father near his home (where I grew up) in the working class area of lower Bucks County and Bristol. It’s an area where the Trump signs outnumber the Hillary signs — about three to one. Actually, there aren’t many signs for either of them. And signs for third party candidates are nonexistent. This is the land of the silent majority. To counter it, I have a large blue bumper sticker for Hillary prominently displayed on the back of my red car. The bumper sticker on the SUV in front of me is, in fact, the only other bumper sticker I have seen all day even though I have been on at least five major highways.

My father is 97 and a Trump supporter. The bumper sticker in front of me has made my day and I can’t help sharing it with my father. He is blind in one eye and has severe glaucoma in the other. He used to be liberal (thank you President Nixon) but since 9-11 has become increasingly conservative. When I describe the bumper sticker, he laughs and says “I guess that means they’re not voting for him. Even I can see that!”

In my early 20s in the early 1980s — more than 25 years ago — I came out as a lesbian to my parents. My father said being a lesbian was just one more thing I was doing to “buck the system.” I couldn’t disagree — though I would have changed a critical consonant. I was always rebellious, but I really was a lesbian. Eventually, he came around and loves and accepts my partner as my spouse and as a second daughter. (I am an only child.) Times were different then. I “escaped” from my background, was the first in my family to graduate from college, and then moved to a nearby city about an hour away. Since I left, I notice that things have changed. For one thing the “white” working class is increasing racially diverse.

After the errands on the way to his lady friend’s house, I note a few Hillary signs displayed prominently. On one street, two houses side by side display political signs. One is for Trump and one is for Hillary. I have a private moment of glee imaging the interactions between the neighbors.

On the front lawn of a house near our destination, a Hillary sign is displayed on the front lawn. In the front window, rainbow letters from the Hillary campaign say, “Do the most good.” I know there is no talking to him about politics, but decide to give it another try. I mention the sign to my father, who quotes Fox news to me. Loudly. (This is the only news he watches — when he is not listening to conservative talk radio.) I counter his statements by asking a few questions starting with “How do you think Trump made his money?”

My tactics don’t work. My father changes the subject. He is hard of hearing and refuses to wear a hearing aid so he repeatedly says “ha?” and I spend a lot of time repeating myself. My father is a decent person. He may live in an area that is mostly white and tract house but I never heard him utter a racist word. When my feminist mother was alive, he was pro-choice. I helped him take care of my mother 20 years ago when she was terminally ill, which I chronicle in my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters. When my mother’s hospital bed was delivered to the house by a young black man, my father spoke to him respectfully and invited him into the house.

When we pull up to his lady friend’s house, she comes outside and I show her my bumper sticker. She agrees that the blue sticker against the red car looks very nice. Then she says “Who are you going to vote for?” She looks sincere and bewildered. She is a tiny, white haired 92-year-old woman, a retired seamstress, who still gardens and keeps an impeccable house.

She tells me she was just talking to her son about this. (Her son is a non-college educate white male — who lives with his wife and daughter and told his mother that he is voting for Hillary and that she should too.) “I was going to vote for him,” she says referring to Trump, “but he’s turning out to be crazy.” I reassure her that he was always crazy.

In the house, over a dish of strawberry ice cream, my father’s lady friend laughs when I tell her about the bumper sticker and then she turns to me and whispers (so my father won’t hear) “I think he’s guilty.” I nod in agreement and when my father states that “He is a smart business man.” I point out that another Trump casino in Atlantic City has just gone belly up.

My father’s lady friend has compassion on her face for the people who lost her jobs. Then she nods with concern at my father. She is telling me silently that he is 97, and I shouldn’t say anything to upset him. She is right. As my late aunt once said (about seven years ago), “At his age, it’s good he has any opinions.”

She was right. I promised my mother, when she was on her deathbed, that I would take care of my father. But it is more than that. I love and respect my father. I wouldn’t be here without him.

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The Obama administration has declared that November is National Family Caregivers Month. The proclamation declares that family member, friends and neighbors dedicate countless hours providing care to their relatives and loved ones.

When my mother was diagnosed with fourth-stage cancer, I put aside everything that I could and went to take care of her. I was 34 at the time and my mother was 74. She died a little more than 17 years ago. I chronicled my experience in Tea Leaves, a Memoir of Mothers and Daughters (Bella Books, 2012).

My personal journey of caretaking my mother in her final months coincided with my curiosity of learning more about my working-class background. Despite my belief (rooted in strong denial) that she would somehow, miraculously, get better, I knew I was hearing her stories for the last time.

Being the first person in my family to graduate from college put a wedge between me and my background. I was only marginally in touch with my best friend who I had grown up with. We had grown apart. She had married young and was in an extremely conventional marriage to a man (think 1950s). A few short years later, I came out as a lesbian (very 1970s, but this was actually in the early 80s).

I was okay with the fact that I had nothing left in common with the friends I grew up with. But I had a yearning to understand more about my own history. So I read up on the labor movement and asked my mother questions about my grandmother, who as an adult had been a spinner in a textile mill in the Kensington section of Philadelphia:

“When your grandmother was a girl, she worked in a candy factory,” my mother said, slowly and carefully.   I remembered that this was not the first time she had told me this.

“What did she want to do?”

My mother looked at me as if I were insane.

“No one asked her what she wanted to do. She just went out and worked.”

As a result of taking care of my mother in her final months, I learned more about myself. In coming to accept my mother’s mortality, I came to an acceptance that my own life was finite, also, giving me greater insight into the things in life that were important to me. My mother had a keen sense of humor, which undoubtedly got us through:

Increasingly, my mother’s moods changed from minute to minute. On my last visit, she was laughing, telling me that she almost put her straw in the urinal which was sitting next to her water bottle on her nightstand. Then, less than ten minutes later, when the HMO nurse came, my mother told her she wanted a black pill. I was sitting in the room with my mother when the nurse turned to me with an exaggerated expression of shocked concern on her face, and said, “Did your mother tell you she felt like this?” I shrugged. My mother, in moments of excruciating pain, had told me she wanted to end her life. But there was no legal way to do it. A black pill, or suicide pill, was illegal in Pennsylvania and almost in every other state. When my mother suggested that I could put a plastic bag over her head, all I could do was suck in my breath.

click here to read the entire article in The Huffington Post — including practical caregiving advice

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