I want to tell you a story. It's a lengthy story, but I hope you will bear with me. The reason I am writing this story is because CVS Pharmacy has asked people to write about a caregiver in their lives for the "For All the Ways You Care" contest. I would LOVE to win this contest, because my mom is still a caring and compassionate person. She is a foster mom, and currently has 10 kids who she cares for on a regular basis, including my 9 year old sister, whom she and my dad adopted a couple of years ago. She also gets up to 3 more kids on the weekends, and needed to purchase a 15 passenger van. I would LOVE to be able to help her pay that van off, because of all the love and care she has given to me, my son, my husband, and now our new little guy, down through the years.
My story begins long before the "meat" of this story. I grew up in a home with lots of siblings (5 to be exact), and lots of rules. You kind of have to have a lot of rules with that many kids. As a teen, and even as a younger child, I thought my mom was pretty strict. There were so many phrases that started with "you may not do...", and "If you do this, you'll...". I hated the rules. We were a Christian family, and so we had to follow the rules.I thought for sure that no one else's parents were this strict. Of course, later in life I realized why my parents instilled these rules in our home.
So, let's skip forward to 1992: I was 22 years old and living high on the hog, doing whatever I pleased, without a thought to my parents' rules. I was single, attractive, making fairly good money, living in my own apartment, and going out at least 3 nights a week. I was not living the good and Godly life that should have reflected my 8 year old decision to accept Jesus in to my heart. I knew the difference between right and wrong, but at that point in my life, it was so much more fun to NOT follow the rules. I rebelled against those rules since I was in the 2nd grade! If you ask my mom, she would probably tell you that she never would've dreamed that her sweet little baby girl would grow up to be such a defiant and rebellious person.
Then it happened. I ended up getting pregnant because of not following the rules. I eventually lost my job and had to move home with my mom. She pretty much did not speak to me my entire pregnancy because she was so ashamed of what I had done. It was awful! I was ashamed of what I had done too, but it sure didn't help to have my mom not speak to me. It was an uncertain time for me, and I needed someone to lean on, and talk to. I had just walked away from my former lifestyle, friends included. I basically went into hiding. No one knew where I was or what had happened, and no one called either.
I ended up having my baby, a sweet baby boy. He looked so beautiful and healthy. But he was not. The day after he was born, the doctors were doing the discharge physical and realized that he had a heart murmur, so they decided that he needed to have some tests done to see if it was anything serious. It was. They weren't able to get the full story yet, but they did find out that not all of his heart had formed. They wanted us to come back in three months so that they could do a cardiac catheterization...they wanted a better look at what was going on with his heart.
So three months later, my sweet little guy was admitted to the hospital for the first of many surgeries. The results of the cardiac cath? The doctors found that most of the right side of his heart had not formed, and that there was a hole in the middle of all four chambers. He had a lot of "blue blood" in his body because of leakage. His heart was working overtime because only one of his pumps worked.
I was devastated. My family was devastated. We prayed and cried together, and very quickly, my mom and I got very close. We had never been close, but this "tragedy" forced a bond between us that we would've never expected. We knew that God was in charge, and that He would give us the strength we needed to get through all of this. It wasn't easy.
At age 8 months, my baby boy had his first heart surgery (the first half of a Glen shunt operation), after it was postponed because of bronchiolitis (and another hospitalization). He was in surgery for nearly 8 hours, but came through it wonderfully. They took one of the main veins that takes de-oxygenated blood to your heart to get to the lungs to get oxygen, and attached it right to the main pulmonary artery, bypassing the right side of the heart altogether. My mom was by my side the entire time. In the waiting room. In the hospital room. She even stayed overnight with me, on an uncomfortable makeshift chair/bed in a room down the hall.
We noticed an immediate improvement in his coloring and his activity. He was monitored by a wonderful pediatric cardiologist, who had been his cardiologist since birth. The next year and a half, he did so well. He did so well, that I decided it was time to go back to work. My mom offered to keep him while I was at work, so that I didn't have to pay for childcare. That in itself was a HUGE blessing. I still had 3 younger siblings at home, so he was well cared for.
Then, when he was 2-1/2 years old, it was time to finish the second half of the Glen shunt operation. By this time, he was a little firecracker. He was talking really well--in full sentences; and he had wrapped all of my family around his little finger. Our worlds revolved around him. He was a smart, charming, and sweet little boy...not to mention, very handsome!
So, off we went to the hospital for his second heart surgery. Things went well, and we went home after a week's stay. Then, something happened. I was at work, and my sister was getting him ready for a nap. He started shaking, and he went very limp. Through loads of panic and heartache, and quite a few medical tests later, we found out that he had had a major stroke: one that paralyzed his entire right side. He was walking within three days, but he would always have impaired mobility on the entire right side. At this time, the doctors were able to determine that this stroke was actually his FOURTH stroke! He had had three minor strokes earlier in the year, that were completely undetectable.
We were out of the hospital within a week. Again, my mom was with me the entire time. Until she had to get ready for her annual trip to the Navajo reservation to do VBS (Vacation Bible School) for a week. She didn't want to go. She was worried about her daughter and her grandson, and kept asking if I wanted her to stay. I knew this trip was her heart, and I encouraged her to go. So she went. To a place where there were no telephone lines. It was a 45 minute drive to the nearest phone. She took a team of kids, who all slept in sleeping bags on hard concrete floors the entire week. They also had no showers, and water was scarce, so they really had to conserve.
Halfway into my mom's trip, my little guy had another MAJOR stroke. This time, it took his hearing and his speech. I freaked out. My mom wasn't there, but my dad was, so he took us to the Emergency Room. He stayed with us as long as he could...until midnight. Then he was so tired, and had to work the next day, so I sent him home. I cried and cried that night, because I needed my mom so badly. A wonderful and motherly nurse came into the room, and put her arms around me. She prayed with me, and spoke comforting words, and even cried with me. But she wasn't my mom. I desperately needed my mom. We tried to call her. Several times. We had to call to this trading post that had the nearest phone. When we finally got through to someone, they said they would get the message to her.
The message never got to my mom. She came home on the date they said they would return, only to find out that her grandson was back in the hospital. She was horrified, because no one had been able to get ahold of her. She showered, changed her clothes, and rushed in to the hospital. She stayed there with me and my little guy until we were discharged. We took turns staying in the room with my son. She had not slept in a comfortable bed for a whole week, and here she was, taking this on again, without anywhere comfortable to sleep, and with the PA system going off every few minutes, paging someone in the hospital.
Eventually my son got out of the hospital, having regained his hearing (only by a true miracle from God--even admitted by the doctors!). We settled into our routines again, but with things being slightly different. We had to teach this toddler how to talk again. My mom started learning a little sign language so that she could teach him something that would help him remember. We went through some seizure episodes during the last hospital stay, and so we were also dealing with the side effects of the seizure meds, which meant my son was usually up until midnight or later. Much of that time, my mom helped by staying up with him, because I had to work.
Down through the next few years, my mom was always there. She helped with the re-potty training, and the re-learning to talk. She faithfully administered medications, and took my son to doctor's appointments when I wasn't able to get off of work. She helped with the therapy he needed to get better. And when he was 4 years old, she started teaching him his colors, letters, numbers, and more. She began homeschooling him, and homeschooled him up until the time that I got married, when my son was 10 years old.
There is no way I could've gotten through the first 10 years of my son's life without a faithful and strength-giving God, and without my son's caregiver: my mom. She was and is a huge blessing to me, and because of what looked like a tragedy, something really good came out of it: My mom and I became best friends. I am SO thankful that my mom was there for me, even after at least 15 difficult and rebellious years from me. I know that God can take something that is tragic, and bring good out of it. The good is my mom. She has always been this good, but it took me going through a devastating time with my own child, for me to realize what a wonderful mom (and Grandma) she is!
Thanks for sticking with me long enough to get this far in this post. I hope this will encourage you to think of someone who has been a caregiver in your life, and that you will take the time to let them know how much you are grateful for what they gave/give you.
Have a great weekend!