A Daughter’s Words

In November 2020, a friend of mine, Cherie Messore, currently Sr. Manager of Public Relations at Spectrum Health and Human Services located in Western New York, read the desperation in a question I had asked on my personal Facebook page.

It inspired her to write a post for the company’s blog:

November is National Family Caregiver Month

A former co-worker recently posted this on her social media:

Feeling trapped, caged. Is this a normal reaction to caregiving? (Asking for the friend I used to be to myself.)

She is the caregiver to her elderly mother who is bedridden, deprived of her sight, and suffers from a variety of maladies that also spur bouts of delirium. This breaks my heart. I remember both mother and daughter as vibrant, artistically talented women, who loved their life sharing a charming cabin in a rural community.

Illness and long life are taking their toll on the mother, and the dutiful daughter thrust into the role of caregiver is wrapped in the commitment – and guilt – inherent to this responsibility.

November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to reflect on and support the millions of family caregivers who give their love, their time, their patience, and their energy to caring for a family member in their homes.

Are you picturing a soft-focused, gentle picture, of caregiver and patient smiling over the Scrabble board as they strengthen their bonds of love and togetherness? It’s rarely like that.

Read the rest of Cherie’s article HERE.

Hearing that my mother had recently passed, Cherie invited me to write a postscript to her original piece for the Spectrum Health and Human Services’ blog. It’s early days, my reflections still confused and raw, but I agreed, struggled, thought I might give up, but did somehow manage it.

Cherie has kindly let me post the result here on my blog, too.

A Daughter’s Words

The caregiving journey I embarked on without knowing where I was going, recently, finally, and suddenly, reached its destination.

My mother died this past October, at the age of 92. We had lived together for 31 ½ years since she had given me a home after the breakup of my marriage. We shared a house and so much more, not always harmoniously, but never without forgiveness and friendship, because we realized the refuge we had in each other.

Hoping she would live a long life, it was always my intention to be my mom’s caregiver, a natural reciprocation of all she had done for me. That objective wasn’t much of a sacrifice while she could still be left alone, walk, read, and write out her favorite quotes, draw and paint, sing, play cards, make chicken soup, feed the kitties and watch their TV—the birds outside on the feeders—as happily as Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy on our Samsung 16” screen. Even when she had to use a cane, then a walker, eventually a wheelchair, was incontinent and needed help showering, she was unchanged in her mind and heart. She continued to enjoy talking about her past, politics, nature, and old-time movie stars, with an appetite for good food and the flavors of life in general.

When the spells of delirium began, my mom’s limitations increased and so did the restrictions on my life. In the last few years, she became bedridden and blind. The delirium accused me of awful things and sometimes pulled me into its insanity. When she wasn’t delusional, she was more demanding than companionable, unrecognizable from the woman who was so enduring, a widow for 35 years, the mother I admired, the friend I always counted on.

Sometimes I would think, you’ll regret being angry with her, saying what you did, and taking time for yourself while it was running out with her.

The journey was a long one, especially as it went through a succession of dark tunnels, misunderstanding, resentment, and exhaustion traveling with us. There were too many times I wanted to pull the alarm so it would stop, no matter a desperate, screeching stop as long as I could get off. I also knew I couldn’t do that and on and on we went, as it felt, further and further from any chance of reviving the unconditional love between us.

Then the journey took a turn. It happened in the early hours of a Sunday morning while I was sleeping, so I didn’t realize until I woke my mom and she could hardly swallow or speak. She had lost so much along the way, but the ability to express herself verbally was the worst. Once, trying to say something to me that I just couldn’t understand, she wept more intensely than I had seen her do over any of her other disabilities.

When the end came, despite deep sadness, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, all those tunnels. For my mom it was the light of her spirit lifting out of her useless body to begin a journey I could not, did not want to, make yet.

For me, what was illuminated was my life as I had to go on with it, switching back to the platform of myself, the profound gift that, through the best and the worst, my mother had given me.

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.

~ Nelson Mandela from his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom

Painting by June M. DiGiacomo

My Mom, June Marilyn DiGiacomo

March 10, 1929 – October 14, 2021

It has been a while since I posted. I am here again after the loss of my mother last Thursday afternoon, October 14th. She was 92 and passed peacefully in the home I shared with her for the past 31 years. After being her sole caretaker for many years, the last two plus with her bedbound and blind, a slight stroke took what strength she had left. It was just me and our five beloved kitties with her, an intimate and very private experience witnessing her last moments in a body that age had robbed of its vitality, and the freeing of her spirit that was still a beautiful, smiling young girl.

Once upon a time

I planned to be an artist

or celebrity.

A song I thought to write one day

and all the world with homage pay.

I longed to write a noble book,

but what I did–

was learn to cook.

For life with simple tasks is filled,

and I have done not what

I willed!

June M DiGiacomo

(From the last page of a journal of hers that I found)

Those who knew her at any point, will remember June’s “Mona Lisa smile”, sparkling hazel-blue eyes, and infectious engagement in a life to be celebrated rather than grieved over. 

If you would like to know a little more about her (including her connection to Ernest Hemmingway), I have written her obituary and you can read it here.

Otherwise, at this time, as I slowly adjust to my life without her, I will let a poem I wrote many years ago and a few of her paintings remember her.

Copyright © JM DiGiacomo

The secrets of your heart
are stacked against the wall,
canvases for your art
of hiding what you missed.
No mistaking your style,
a freedom out of hand
that kept you all the while
believing as you wished.
A world that long was yours
before it was revealed—
imagination soars
with courage its master.
Flowers filling a place
left bereft of your own,
a portrait in a vase
found by me, your daughter.
Landscapes take you afar,
cats and soup bring you home
to settle for who you are:
the author of this poem.
~ DM Denton

Copyright © JM DiGiacomo

Donations in her memory may be made to one or the other or both of the following animal rescue organizations: 

Second Chance Sheltering Network: Click on “Donate” in the upper right-hand corner. On second payment screen, please click “Write a note” to indicate that your donation is in memory of June M. DiGiacomo. 

Wyoming County SPCA: Click “Donate”. Click on “Memorial Donation”.  Click on “Memorial”, “In Loving Memory” to June M. DiGiacomo, “Human”. Please fill in “Send notification of donation to” with bardess@earthlink.net. 

Copyright © JM DiGiacomo