By Sandra Bullock Smith
When I first started caring for my mother, I had no apprehension over how difficult the caregiving job would be. I am a strong, capable woman and my mother was gracious, sweet and appreciative. She tended to know the limitations age delivered to her. I tended to know everything. I had siblings who could help me care for her. What could go wrong? The short answer is “a lot.”
One day as I sat in a hospital with my mother, I realized that in so many ways we had traded places. I was now the mother. I was not prepared for that role reversal. I was not prepared for the emotional challenges of my mother’s declining health and mental abilities. I was not prepared for the myriad situations for which there was no “right” answer. I sought out reading material that would help me feel like I was doing the right thing, making the best decisions. I wanted to read about other’s experiences while caring for a parent. Sadly, there was little I could find on the topic.
While caring for Mom, I found I was using phrases with her that she used with us as children. Phrases such as, “don’t give your food to the dog” and “you’ve had enough sugar today.” I kept a journal of these phrases and other experiences of caregiving. At some point I looked at my notes and thought if I could turn my experiences into a book, it might be helpful to others who were caring for a family member. That was the genesis of my book, Trading Places: Becoming My Mother’s Mother.
This book is a very personal collection of stories for me. Trading Places documents the living, breathing caregiving for my beloved mother. Some of the stories might have been embarrassing to her, so I decided not to publish it until she passed away. Even then, the thought of publishing these personal stories still terrified me. But I did it. A friend told me that I had “dared greatly” by publishing the stories. He said, “What you’ve done is remarkable.” When I started to get feedback from my readers, I knew I had done the right thing. One reader wrote, “For any potential caregiver who has staved off acceptance of the probability of filling these shoes, Trading Places is where to begin. This beautifully narrated account is the light that expunges the monster from under the bed. It is a deep breath of acknowledgment and determination.”
Another reader emailed me and explained that she felt such guilt about whether she had done the right things for her parent until she read my book. She was able to see that my experiences and hers were very similar. To know this book helped even one person to deal with the powerful emotions of caregiving makes me very grateful.
My goal in writing this book was to deliver a very heartfelt, uplifting message about family caregiving. I think I succeeded based on the sincere, touching reviews the book has received. But it is much more than a book about caring for an aging parent. It’s a book about a life well-lived. It’s a book about treating others with dignity and respect. It’s a book about love.
About the Author
Sandra Bullock Smith is a retired human resources executive, world traveler, angler, adventure junkie and storyteller. She grew up in northwest Florida and spent 20+ years in the colorful gumbo of south Louisiana. Her current home base is Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she lives with her husband, Mike and their mongrel pups. Mike is an endurance runner so you can often find her out in the woods supporting ultra runners at 100 mile trail runs.
One of her greatest challenges in life was the ten-year period during which she and her siblings cared for their aging mother. This experience led her to pen her first book, Trading Places: Becoming My Mother's Mother. She hopes it offers insight and encouragement to anyone involved in a similar labor of love.
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