Harper Lee taught me so much in To Kill a Mockingbird, including the definition of real courage: “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” Through caregiving, I found that I am a woman of such courage.
I knew when I cared for my parents as they neared the end of their lives that I was fighting a losing battle. Ma, a victim of depression, declined into even deeper darkness when health problems forced her to retire at age eighty-two from the children’s furniture store where she had worked for more than four decades. I assumed all of her responsibilities—shopping, cooking, doing laundry. I made sure she had a pile of books with “happily-ever-after” endings always at her disposal. When dementia made Ma a threat to herself, I found the courage to place her in a facility—something I had promised her I would never do. With Dad by my side, we made life as comfortable as possible for Ma, even though she constantly begged me to help her die. Her pleas and tears did not convince me that euthanasia was the moral thing to do; instead, I searched deep within myself to discover the strength I needed to provide Ma with some quality of life and to let nature take its course. When death finally came, I hoped that it gave her the peace she had not enjoyed in life.
Later, finding the courage to support my dad—my lifelong best friend—took every ounce of fortitude that I had. I had never lied to my dad until I chose to withhold his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer; I kept that a secret to protect him from unnecessary fear. I had always respected my dad, but I took it upon myself to perform acts that I, a daughter, never thought I would have to do for my father—acts that invaded his privacy as a man but were necessary for his welfare. And when Dad struggled to breathe one starless November night, I found the courage to tell him it was okay to let go—and that I would be fine.
Harper Lee knew that even lost battles can be winning ones if the person fights with integrity and honor. I buried both my parents, but my years of caregiving for them were ones of love—and of physical and emotional courage.
Ronna L. Edelstein