Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why Me? I Didn't Ask For This: The Sandwich Generation, Part III

By Miriam B. Medina

She Was My Mama

Out of seven siblings, I was the youngest and became the primary caregiver for my mother until she passed away at the age of 73 from colon cancer. Although it's been several years since she has passed, the writing of this article has triggered traumatic memories for me which have been buried deep within my heart, though the intensity of the pain connected with those memories has long since subsided.

Mama, was unique in her own ways but quite difficult to deal with, and it was with such difficulty that I attended to my mother's needs. Mama by nature was not an affectionate being as most mothers are with their children. She was not a happy person. I don't think she knew how to love. Thinking back to my childhood, I would like to reflect a little on this, and in doing so maybe I can now understand why she was the way she was.

My parents got married during the Great Depression. Papa was 20 years older than mama. Poverty reigned in their home during the depression and continued to command our home as we grew up, even though the economy improved. We lived in a two bedroom apartment in East Harlem, New York, quite a small living space for 9 people, my parents and us seven kids. Inside the bathroom mama was constantly bent over the bathtub, washing clothes. Mama had a fiery temper, most of the time she was cranky, complaining and yelling at us. She ruled our home with an iron fist. However, because of papa's advanced diabetic condition, he was more ill than most people and had to stop working. Mama knew she had to look for work, so she became a night-time cleaning woman.

Things began to get worse at home; mama was always in a foul mood, taking it out on all of us. She was cold and distant. It didn't look like she was capable of loving anyone. As much as I try to think back, I can't remember her ever giving me a hug or a kiss as a child or even later on when I was an adult. Mama's only favorite child was my brother Daniel, the youngest of the boys. Mama adored him. I felt like she didn't love me, and if she did, she certainly did not know how to show it. I grew up feeling rejected and resenting my brother and my mom as well. The stern look on her face would make me uncomfortable. Sometimes I felt like she was venting her anger on only me. How I remember her pulling my braids, sometimes followed by a stinging slap across the face, or how she scolded me in a cruel, hard way, bringing tears to my eyes. Looking back, sometimes I wonder if I was an unwanted pregnancy as I was the last one to be born. I never got around to asking mama why she was that way with me. Maybe, if her life would have been better, she would have been a much softer and sweeter person. She certainly had her fill of the life she was living as well as with bearing children, in a crowded apartment rearing seven kids and nothing to look forward to but more of the same...

I'm ashamed to say this but I must confess that I resented her as a child and later on as an adult. She was a human tornado who disrupted my life. Yet I became the one that she leaned on and clung to until she finally passed away.

Though I can't condone or ignore the damaging effects of such behavior throughout the years, I still feel a great pity for her. She was my mother, and for me to continue speaking badly of her now, well, my heart will not permit it.

Nonetheless, I was there every single day, from morning until the evening when she was in the hospital, bathing her, combing her hair and fussing over her like she was my child. I was there when she was wheeled into surgery. I was there when the doctor came out to tell me that there was no hope, the cancer had spread throughout her body. I was there outside her room listening to her screams of pain that could not be relieved because her vital signs were fearfully poor, it tore me apart. I was there when she lapsed into a coma holding her hand until I heard her last gasp for breath. How powerful, the endless moment filled with the sound of final silence in that cheerless room of bottles and machines that once made such a fuss. There she laid, finally at peace and gone forever, a strong presence in my life from childhood when she took care of me in her own way and into adulthood, when I took care of her as best as I could.

I guess, in a way, her life was tough, 7 kids in a tiny apartment having to work a full-time job, so she took care of me perhaps as best she could. In the end, I returned the favor. She lay there, gone from my life as a physical being for good, so still and breathless, as tears flowed from my eyes and fell upon her face while I kissed her over and over again. I wanted so much for her to wake up and look at me. This was impossible. Mama was gone; her battle with cancer was finally over. I'd never get to help her again, never hear her complain again, she was my mama, and I loved her. I was sandwiched between memories and the reality that she was gone, guilt and sadness, anger and pain. The Sandwich Generation gets caught between conflicts in more ways than one. You can't handle the responsibility towards the end and what it's done to your own life, and then you miss your parent when they're finally gone.

It didn't matter the difficulty or aggravation that I went through I just wanted my feisty mama back. I hesitated, refusing to leave, while her lifeless body grew cold and stiff. The uncontrollable sobs, a sense of emptiness filled my heart as I sat there alone in the room next to her once vital, now lifeless body. Would it seem hypocritical if I said that "I truly loved my mom or am I saying this out of guilt?" No, I truly loved my mama. I felt guilty because our relationship wasn't perfect and we both made mistakes, but who doesn't. I may not be around forever, but while I am, I'll always remember my mama, and she'll live on in my memories and all the things that I achieve.

As a diabetic, I sometimes wonder about my own future. Will I live long enough to become an unbearable burden to my sons? Does anyone know what the future holds in store for them? So in a way, I am considering what role I will play in the next Sandwich Generation. As time moves on, one thing doesn't change, we love our parents, and we love our children, and we can't turn away from them when they need us most no matter how painful that might seem.

To contact: miriammedina@earthlink.net

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