It’s always a thrill for me to open my page for guest posts and share some great writing. Today it’s a special honor to present a very meaningful and personal story written by my sister, Rosemarie Houlihan. I believe her words will touch your hearts as they did mine.
If I believed in saints, my mother would be one.
Mom had a very difficult life. Her mother was an invalid requiring daily injections and healthcare which my mother gave her. Yet, despite my grandmother’s fragile health, she imposed rules and regulations which my mother had to follow.
As a child my mother did all the heavy household jobs such as scrubbing the marble steps leading up to the first floor of their three-family house. Her education was limited to the eighth grade because she had to go to work to supplement her father’s income. Mom’s first year of work was as an unpaid apprentice dressmaker. She remained a dressmaker most of her life and her work was unparalleled.
When my parents married in 1939, they lived with my mother’s parents. My father and grandfather worked conflicting hours, so Mom was always cooking a meal for someone.
A baby boy was born in 1941 but he had kidney disease and died at home at the age of two. War had already broken out and my father was called to serve. Married men with children were not being drafted at the time so all Mom’s aunts had their husbands and babies home with them. Mom was bereft, at home, caring for her mother and mourning the loss of her baby. She would sit on her bed folding and unfolding her baby’s unused clothes. Her aunts saw what this was doing to Mom and convinced her to accompany them on an errand. While she was out, her uncles dismantled the crib and put all the baby’s things in storage. Mom was furious when she returned but this act of tough love probably saved her sanity.
I was born after my father returned from WWII and then exactly four years later, on my birthday, my sister was born.
Throughout her life Mom cared for someone who was sick. Her mother, her baby, her father and eventually her husband who was ill for more than thirty years. When my great-grandmother Mada Rana found herself in need of care, my mother took her into our home and looked after her as well.
I was so used to my mother always sewing at home, doing alterations for friends and neighbors, making clothes for me and my sister, I thought nothing of “volunteering” her to sew all the ladies’ costumes for a Gilbert & Sullivan production at our high school. As busy as Mom was, she got the job done and became the official costumer for all our plays until my sister graduated high school.
Despite all she did for us, I remember feeling “cheated” that my mom was not like other moms. She didn’t sit with us after school and chat; in fact, we never really “talked”. She was always working at something – cooking, sewing, cleaning.
Into her old age Mom continued caring for my father – and he was a handful! He was a good man but incapable of doing much. Still, Mom took great pride in taking care of Dad, calling it “her duty”. I’ve often wondered if Dad was truly incapable or did he feel inadequate because Mom could do anything she set her mind to? Mom was a powerhouse and Dad may have felt overwhelmed. Who knows what he might have been capable of if given half a chance? Maybe he could have helped Mom but she didn’t know how to share the load.
When Dad died, Mom aged abruptly; she became overwhelmed with day-to-day life. The change was shocking but when I think about it, she relaxed for the first time in her life and just let go.
Throughout her life Mom never complained. She never cried, never shouted – and everything stayed inside her, tightly sealed.
I am in a place now where I compare myself to Mom because my dear husband of 54 years has major health issues – not only physical but emotional. And I am failing miserably at caring for him.
I say I’m failing because I do not have the grace that my mother had. I cry, I yell and curse, chastise and apologize and resent him while always loving him. I start each day saying I will do better, but he rarely smiles or says “good morning, how are you” – and, of course, I take it personally which I know I shouldn’t.
But it hurts. The man I married and looked up to is facing his inability to live as he used to. His eyesight has failed him, his memory is poor, his ability to do anything physical, mechanical, technical – all gone. He feels diminished, sad, useless.
And I don’t know what to do.
Oh, I participate in a twice-monthly caregivers’ group and it is cathartic. I make promises to myself. And when I “talk” to my mother, the memories of her ability to cope often come to me. And I listen.
Do I believe in saints? Actually, I do.
RH © 2022