Becoming a caregiver deepens bond with mom

My mom, Rose Beebe, 87, and I have always had a deep bond. She had me when she was 40 and called me her "bonus baby."

With my three siblings practically raised, she doted on me with the wisdom and patience of a relaxed, experienced mother.

Mom took exceptional care of me my entire life, offering unconditional love and unwavering support.

When Mom moved into a nearby memory care facility more than two years ago, I wanted to provide her that same level of care, but I soon learned becoming a parent to a parent doesn't come easily.

I was not prepared for the challenges of a job I didn't apply for and had no training at.

The first year was excruciating physically and mentally.

Suddenly I was buying diapers, taking Mom to medical appointments, nursing her through gallbladder surgery, paying her bills and dealing with Medicaid.

Beyond that, I became consumed with grief as I watched her slowly deteriorate from Alzheimer's.

I lost my father to cancer when I was 25, so I already knew the toll this would take on my heart.

Putting another ball into my juggling act of single parenting my daughter Jazlyn, 16, teaching yoga, being a writer and maintaining a relationship proved to be overwhelming. So much of my energy was expended caring for others that I neglected to take care of myself.

Before long I was burned out, depressed and not sleeping well.

Visits to see Mom were grueling. She would pathetically cry tears of joy each time I'd stop by.

"Oh Lisa, there you are. I love you so much. I've been looking all over for you," she'd say, hugging me tightly. I, on the other hand, wanted to run out of the building weeping because I was so sad that our lives had turned out this way.

There were many days I just couldn't bring myself to go visit Mom because it was too hard.

Guilt overtook me and I felt I wasn't being a good daughter. Mom had cared so well for me, but I realized I couldn't fill her shoes.

Our circumstances were very different and I knew I had to let go of all the unrealistic expectations and demands I'd put on myself.

To be the best caregiver I could for both Mom and Jazlyn, I moved away from being a selfless servant and began nurturing myself.

I got acupuncture and massages to reduce my stress and allowed myself more personal down time.

Twice last year I escaped to Arizona and basked in the magical, desert sun, far away from my responsibilities. I was able to erase my mental hard drive and dive back in to my busy life with a fresh outlook.

Jazlyn has been an amazing source of support, always at my side on this generational journey.

Her ability to easily adjust to Mom's new situation with curiosity and an open heart continues to inspire me.

And my best friend, Rebecca, has offered me a place to download, a shoulder to cry on and numerous reality checks.

Once I decided to stop focusing on my perceived failures as a caregiver and instead concentrate on all the good I was achieving, life felt less restrictive and more expansive.

I now realize my caregiving efforts are enhancing Mom's quality of life and, in turn, are improving my understanding of myself and the beautiful cycle of life.

I cannot take all the credit for Mom's well-being.

There are numerous caregivers at her facility who dutifully attend to her many needs. One of the hardest things I had to do was to turn her care over to others, wondering if she was getting the attention she deserved.

I have come to know the individuals who look after Mom and witnessed their devotion and compassion. I've seen her pat them on the face and say, "You are so nice to me, dear." I am able to sleep at night knowing she is well taken care of.

Quadriya Reevey, 26, has been a caregiver for eight years and says her work with Alzheimer's patients has brought meaning to her life.

"I have grown very close to the people I take care of. It's home away from home," she said. "The residents know how to butter you up and you can't help but love them. It's a blessing to love and be loved."

I am taking life with Mom one day at a time now, enjoying the sweet spot we are in.

Our bond is deepening to levels I didn't know existed.

I trust our unconditional love for each other will guide us through this experience and into the unknown.

Editor's note: In Lisa Moore's new column, "Generations," she writes about the challenges and healing she experiences as a member of the Sandwich Generation: those caring for a parent and a child.