By Nancy Jones
After she died, I was surprisingly relieved at
first, thinking that at last she was no longer in agony and
my dutiful care had finally come to an end. But I was not
prepared for the mind- and body-numbing grief which hit me.
I literally felt nothing for years. Instead, my feelings
came at night in dreams, re-living different episodes of our
life together. For, indeed, her life had become my life, and
a good part of me had died with her. I just never expected
that. I thought when she died, I would be free to resume my
former life—to pick up, so to speak, where I had left off.
But my former interests and friends just weren't there. Long
ago, I had sacrificed them to the greater good: keeping my
mother alive and well.
I am now realizing, in my seventh decade, that my mother
did indeed take "the best years of my life," but in a
totally unexpected way. I was a caregiver for 25 years and
experienced a kind of intimacy not otherwise available; and
I was given wisdom by someone far wiser than most people I
would have met in the busy twittering outside world.
When I'm feeling particularly worthless because I
interrupted a career to take care of her, I wallow in the
available statistics. As a caregiver, I am part of a group
which has saved the country billions of health care dollars.
I also have an assigned value. In 2004, two years after my
mother's death, the economic value of informal caregiving
was estimated by the National Family Caregivers Association
for each state. I was one of 1,923,778 caregivers in the
state of New York working 2,061 hours a year at an estimated
market value of $20,443. Multiply that by 25 years and I
would have earned (had I been paid) well over half-a-million
dollars. There is so little that caregivers can cling to, to
give themselves meaning and importance, that such statistics
become strangely comforting. I still sorely miss my mother
and it will be years before I find another comfortable
identity for myself. So in the meantime, I'll settle for
this price tag—not a meager amount for the best years of my
Nancy Jones was a caregiver for her
mother for 25 years. She has been a writer and editor
at the Children's Hospital in Boston and later at the Albert
Einstein School of Medicine in New York.