It’s Not Bravery

“But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?”
Jonathan Doerr, “All the Light We Cannot See”

I wanted to run away. I stood contemplating my escape. My chest was tightening with every breath. I could not stay for another night, another day, another hour in this place. I needed to find help. There had to be someone to call, somewhere to hide. But there was nowhere to run. I closed my eyes and took several deep breaths. “It will not be like this the entire time, Jaime. This is one ugly scene; just handle it and move on.”

I spent that night taking care of my mom. I was staying with her for several days while my dad took some time for himself, a much-needed reprieve. It was bath time, and mom is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. We were having a battle involving hygiene and diapers. There were screams and struggles followed by tears and balled up fists with white knuckles. My loneliness and desperation suffocated me. The sheer magnitude of the sadness surrounding these menial tasks was crushing.

The next morning I picked up the pieces. The nasty moment had indeed passed; we managed to smile again in the light of a new day. We loaded up and drove to the mountains to find beauty. As I often do, I posted about my journey on Instagram. A thoughtful co-worker and friend sent me a text that day. Saw your post. You’re so brave. I appreciated her words even though I disagreed with her perception of me.

It doesn’t feel like bravery to me. I did not choose or welcome this role. After all, I only step in as temporary caregiver a few weeks out of the year. Mom is sick and requires constant supervision. She can no longer follow simple instructions or communicate. Some days it feels like parenting a toddler, which I have not done in years. But it is what it is. She needs me. Dad cannot do it all alone. There is no choice; I must show up.

Earlier in my life, if I faced a scary situation that overwhelmed me, I would call mom and dad. Current circumstances frequently have me scanning the room desperately searching for someone to fix things, only to realize I am the only adult in the room. This cold reality still shocks my system. However, in the midst of it all, I am continually reminded that I am stronger than I think I am. I know that I do not have to handle every messy situation, nursing home, break down, or death all at once. I only need to breathe and get through one moment at a time. Put one foot in front of the other. These fleeting bouts of loneliness and panic are not here to stay. This too shall pass.

After this last stay with mom, my husband told me that she would be proud of me for the way I take care of her. I hope so. I know she would be so sad and appalled to be living this way. She would hate to be a burden. She would detest not having her hair fixed or wearing makeup each time she left the house. She would be humiliated by adult diapers. These truths hurt, but I also know she would feel loved in a big way. Maybe I am not brave, but mom would be proud to see that I stood as the adult in the room when she no longer could.