The Side Effects of Being a Caregiver

When this terrible disease took his mother's life, Michael was left to pick up his life and make sense of what happened. Now, more than 20 years later, the pain still remains for him and many other caregivers. Read more to find out how he has learned how to cope with his emotions.

My mom was in her early 30's. She was a gentle, kind and ever- giving soul. I was just about to enter my teens. I had gone to the doctors with her, but wasn't quite sure I understood what was going on. We left the doctors, got into the car, and headed for home. Near home we pulled over, mom started to cry and slowly tell me that she had to go into the hospital. I began to cry and then we had the longest, most warm and memorable hug I have ever had, something I remember to this day. She whispered into my ear, "don't worry, everything will be ok...Mom will be ok, I'll come home." I tried to believe her.

What followed was the most difficult year of my mom's life, and dare I say selfishly, the most painful year of my life. Mom had leukemia; she would have to endure months of chemo, radiation, and a bone marrow transplant. There were days she couldn't eat, and those days when she could, she couldn't do it by herself. There were days she wouldn't wake up and other days where she couldn't muster enough energy to talk. Mom lost her hair and her will to live at times. I recall when she came home for a few days, she did so for us - her family. I recall her calling me into her room one time because she couldn't move and wouldn't stop throwing up.

She didn't want anyone to know how sick she really was.

She asked me to empty her bowl, she didn't want my brother or grandmother to see she was still so sick. She then asked me to put some water on her lips with these pink little brushes that the hospital had given us - not too much she said, or else mom will throw up. I know that this situation is repeated in household across this country and many others. I don't believe anything I did is out of the norm.

What I want to share however, is what I have felt since she died as a result of all of this. Her death affected everything that has happened to me - my teenage years, my adulthood, and now at 37 as a parent of two daughters. As I grew up, it left me feeling incredibly alone and insecure all through highschool -- fractured as a young man. I went from relationship to relationship with a lack of trust.

I felt sorry for myself every time I saw someone with their mom.

Moms are supposed to teach you about relationships, about love - about life. Every time I felt I needed to talk to someone, I felt angry and asked myself so many questions...

  • Why did this happen to me?
  • How could she leave me?
  • How could I get married and not have the first mom and son dance?
  • Who would be there to tell me they loved me?

To this day, more than 20 years later, I still have days where things are good, and not so good. For a long time, I didn't understand death and disease - I thought maybe God would have saved her if I had been a better son. Sometimes I worry when I see my own children because every sniffle and every cough makes me panic.

But her death has allowed me to become the person I am today.

It pushed me to stay in school, to try and get the education she dreamed for me and to be a good parent. And to tell my own children "don't worry, everything will be ok...” as my mom did some 25 years ago. Parents going through cancer right now know how confusing it is when your children want answers and reassurance. Don't just tell them you love them, let them love you back and be there with you. For those children who are confused or scared, that is OK too. Those feelings are normal. Your parents love you, they only want to protect you, they are all too human - trying to reassure you everything will be OK. Cherish every moment.