Every day is Sunday
A year in the life of a caregiver
“There are only four kinds of people in the world – those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers.”
November is National Family Caregiver’s Month. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, more than 65 million Americans are caregivers to family members with a vast array of illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease, advanced diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and many others. It’s the toughest job no one ever talks about.
The author, a finalist for the 2010 Family Caregiver of the Year Award, has been caring for his parents for the past four years.
Whenever he thinks of his mother’s disappearance, he thinks of salmon salad. It’s what he serves on the day he calls his siblings together to talk about how Mom has been behaving oddly and they need to do something about it. He also serves loganberry pie, but he never thinks of loganberry pie when he thinks of his mother.
She had begun to disappear long before the salmon salad, of course. The proof of her failing memory has been there for months, maybe even years: The picnic in the park when she cried because one of her grandsons hadn’t greeted her, when in fact he’d come in the same car with her. The repeated questions about mundane things. The falling out between his mother and her favorite brother-in-law, something about being left in a car without any air conditioning, a story that made no sense.
All of which leads to salmon salad and loganberry pie. After which one of his brothers mentions nursing homes, and another says something about assisted living facilities, and the others are mostly quiet.
The next day, he drives to his parents’ house and tells his father, “Something is wrong with Mom. I’m going to be helping you take care of her.”
For his mother, every day is Sunday. Before her memory began to leave her, her son had visited on Sundays. She awakes each morning now to find him there, cooking breakfast in her kitchen, and concludes it must be the Sabbath.
After breakfast, he and his mother play gin rummy for an hour. The neurologist says this will “warm up her brain.” His mother doesn’t know what year it is, but she can still win a hand of cards. Each time she wins, she reminds him, “Don’t feel bad. It’s only a game.”
After cards, they move to her photo album. The ancient, crumbling chipboard pages leave a fine black dust in their laps. The album is filled with square, scallop-edged black-and-white photos. Here is his mother at age five. Here she is on her wedding day. Here is his sister at two.
The final photograph in the book is a family portrait from 20 years before. He pretends he can’t remember the names of his brothers and their wives, his nieces and nephews. It’s his way of testing her, of finding out how far away she’s gone. She recites the names of each person in the photo, even the son who no longer visits because he says she doesn’t recognize him, so what’s the point?
“I’m surprised at you,” she says each morning as he’s putting the photo album away. “How could you forget the names of your own family?”
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