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An Errand for My Mother
By Nancy Jones


(Page 4 of 4)

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 life.

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.

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