Debbie Vaught, Crossroads Hospice Charitable Foundation Chair, shares how she is discovering herself again, and learning new life roles, after her role as a caregiver has come to an end.

Completing the Caregiving Role

Rediscovering Myself After the Caregiving Journey has Ended

by Debbie Vaught

Published April 21st, 2016

I find myself still trying to figure out how I feel about myself...

Late last year, on her 80th birthday, my mother passed away. She had been sick for the past five years and I had cared for her every day of those years. We had good days and very hard and sad days. There were many doctors’ visits, calls to 911, trips to the emergency room and hospital admissions. I prepared myself to say goodbye to Mom more times than I can count.

... I became her defender and protector as well as her friend and daughter.

Fifteen years ago, when Mom first came to live close to us, it was because she had endured a horrible and heartbreaking divorce. In many ways, this was the first time I nursed her back to health. This was the first time our roles began to shift and I became her defender and protector as well as her friend and daughter. We shared many wonderful years and Mom began to heal emotionally. We even got to run a business together! Having my mom and the kids’ grandmother in our lives on a daily basis was fabulous, but in the back of my mind, I knew that Mom would eventually be solely dependent on her three children, particularly me and my family.

After Mom’s first near death experience, we were not given much hope. When we were told she had very little time left with us, I watched my mother curl up in a fetal position, and in that moment, she looked so small and defeated. It broke my heart and once again our roles shifted as I became her advocate. After spending much time talking with medical professionals, the doctor found another treatment to attempt. Mom was admitted to a long-term acute care hospital for very specialized medications to treat her various heart conditions that had been worsened by a chemotherapy medication she had taken for an auto-immune disease. We were so anxious as we began this treatment, as it would either work, or it would not, and we would know quickly. Sure enough, it worked! Mom spent two months receiving drug therapy, physical and occupational therapy and her strength improved. A new role I gladly took on was Mom’s cheerleader!

... my entire focus was on Mom and I lost myself in so many ways during this journey.

She then moved into our home and we continued to work on nursing her back to health. This season brought more doctors’ visits, therapy appointments and hospital admissions. We were so blessed by incredible medical staff along the way. Mom and I became very close to — and hugely dependent on — the doctors that treated her. We were on first name basis and I will forever be grateful for their loving care. There were many crazy, scary and horrible moments during this time. As my role shifted again, my entire focus was on Mom and I lost myself in so many ways during this journey.

Then the time came that I had been thinking about for over fifteen years — the time that I was not going to be able to help Mom mom heal, the time I had to help her surrender and the time had come to say goodbye for the final time. In those last few weeks and days, nothing mattered but her. Our roles had shifted for the final time. I had become the mother totally consumed by the love I felt for this person that depended on me for everything. I lost my mother on October 6, 2015. I never lost respect for her as my mother but rather our love and relationship grew with every changing role and season.

The last five months since Mom’s death have been a mixed bag of feelings. While there was this part of me that was relieved to “get my life back,” I also had lot of uncertainty, found myself withdrawing from many of my friends and experiencing anxiety for the first time in my life. The real problem was that I did not know how to have a life anymore. My years being a caregiver to Mom had changed me in ways I was not even aware of until now. I feel so lost.

I never lost respect for her as my mother ... our love and relationship grew with every changing role and season.

I am attempting to create a new life with new roles without her. Many of the places I took Mom to, other than the doctor, are difficult for me to go to alone. One of the hardest places I went after her death was to get my nails done. Mom was a lady that always loved getting her nails done and looking beautiful. It was an activity I so enjoyed doing with her. When I went back for the first time, they did not yet know that Mom had passed away. When they asked where she was, I barely knew what to say. They could tell by the look on my face why Mom was not with me. It is heartbreaking to see others’ sadness and grief as well as trying to deal with mine.

Every day during the week, I would take Mom to Sonic for a Coke, lunch or some treat. I have not been back to that particular Sonic yet. The two men that work there were always so precious to Mom and encouraging to me as her daughter and caregiver. One of these days, when I feel ready, I will surprise them. It is these daily activities that have brought grief in ways I was not expecting.

Every day is a new day. My life and my roles are shifting yet again. I am now the keeper of Mom’s memory. I will carry her love, spunk and strength with me. I am trying to find my way. I know I will figure this out because Mom and I learned how to be courageous in the face of difficult days…one day at a time.

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About Debbie Vaught

Debbie Vaught, the author of this piece and the Chair of the Crossroads Hospice Charitable Foundation, has worked for 30 years in human resources management, and owned an international manufacturing company. Her experience has all been “people related” and she has been active in many projects within her community.

Debbie Vaught

Chair, Grief Recovery Method® Specialist

Debbie Vaught has worked for 30 years in human resources management, and owned an international manufacturing company. Her experience has all been “people related” and she has been active in many projects within her community.

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