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When a child becomes a parent

As she drew her last breath, I knew none of our lives would ever be the same, especially mine….

Sometimes in your life when you get big news, you remember everything about that moment. The day, the time, the weather, exactly what you are doing. Other times, like when I received the call from my sister that our Mummy’s cancer was back, my memory is void. As hard as I try, I don’t remember a single thing about that day other than the excruciating pain I felt throughout my entire body. She had fought for over ten years to keep her cancer at bay, but it was back, and this time it wouldn’t lose.

As I drove the 290 miles from Washington DC to Harnett County, NC, my mind raced with “what if” scenarios. What if she dies and I am left taking care of my father? What if she hangs on for years, but I must help take care of them both? Even though Mummy was my stepmom, I couldn’t have loved her more. I stayed in my father’s life because of her. She had been the reason why, as a child, I went to visit them every other weekend. Now as an adult, I would spend the next few months traveling back and forth from work to be with her on most weekends. As the time for hospice came, I spent the last six weeks of her life taking care of her. In the end, she would be the reason I put my life on hold again - to take care of my father. I made her a promise I intended to keep.

My father and I were never close. As a matter of fact, neither of us put much effort into trying to be close. In fact, most people were a bit shocked when my partner and I left DC and moved to North Carolina. Nevertheless, we spent 3.5 years caring for my father’s every need. Over the course of that time, my father and I grew closer, but until the last year of his life, I would have never guessed just how close we would become. You see, as with many elderly people, my Pops started losing control of his body, both physically and mentally. This was something I could never have prepared myself for… when the child becomes the parent. An argument we had over whether he would wear Depends was one I’ll never forget. He told me, in his most sarcastic voice, “I want to wear big boy pants, not a diaper.” Of course, he lost that battle because I threw all his “big boy” pants in the trash. As time went on, it became increasingly more difficult for Pops to keep himself clean. He had been having trouble controlling his bowels and added to that was his need for using a walker. We were in for something neither of us had envisioned. I remember vividly the first time I had to shower him. It was something neither of us wanted to happen, but we knew there was no alternative. He said to me, “Ray, I’m sorry.” I fought back the tears as I knew he was at a breaking point. I said to him, “Pops, I know you don’t want this, and I’m not too fond of having to do this, but we have no choice. Let’s get you all cleaned up.” It’s strange the things in life that bring you closer to someone. For my Pops and me, it was an uncomfortable realization by both of us that we had no other choice.

Pops has been gone for almost two years, and we have since moved on from North Carolina back to Galveston, TX. I will never regret the time we spent taking care of him. I learned a level of love and respect I would have otherwise never experienced, and I have my Mummy to thank for all of it


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