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We hear of caregiver role strain, but the incredible inner peace that accompanies caregiving of a loved one at home can also be a very positive experience.


As a home care nurse and faculty member, I work with many caregivers who are experiencing role strain. I often wondered why people choose to care for their loved ones at home, and now, because of my mother, I understand.


When I began as a faculty member, my 84-year-old mother had been experiencing failing health with frequent falls, resulting in placement in an assisted living facility. The decision to place her had been difficult, aggravated by her failing memory and her unhappiness there. Each day that I visited her, she asked, "When are we going home?" leaving me with a heavy burden.


My mother had always been a strong woman and powerful role model. She was college educated and served as a sergeant in the U.S. Marines during World War II. She was a journalist, eventually becoming the Editor of a Catholic newspaper in western New York. Her most valued accomplishment had been her ability to raise funds for Mother Theresa's causes through her column in the newspaper. She dedicated herself to helping others.


After 1 month in the facility my mother fell. She had to undergo emergency brain surgery to evacuate two subdural hematomas. She survived the surgery, but her short-term memory worsened. She was diagnosed with dementia.


When it came time for discharge, she was alert enough to state adamantly that she would not go to a nursing home. I decided to take her home to live with me, and my husband agreed. Additionally, being the nurse in the family, everyone assumed I could "handle it" better than my siblings.


Initially life seemed unbearable. My mother was incontinent, hallucinating, and disoriented. At one point she stayed awake for 40 hours seeing people, places, and things that weren't there. We were exhausted. But in time, she showed signs of improvement.


However, her memory worsened. Yet, I began to appreciate my mother in a way I never knew possible. We reconnected as we spent a great deal of time together. I had forgotten how interesting and sweet she could be. I found myself rushing home to be with her. When she called out my name in the morning, I felt important and needed. I no longer thought only of me as I attended to her needs.


When she whispered, "I need a hug," I appreciated the fragility of life and the human bond that is so vital to our survival. I reflected on how life takes unanticipated twists and turns.


When my mother spoke of people and places long ago, I knew those memories and was taken to a time when life was easy and comforting. I remembered watching I Love Lucy with her, playing with the clothespins as she hung out the wash, singing with her as she played the piano or guitar, and spying on her while she gossiped with the neighbors, always dominating the conversations with her fascinating stories.


When my mother died from a fall, I reflected on the satisfaction and peace I had not anticipated I would feel. I knew what it was to "give back" to my mother.


It seems incredible that caregiving can be so satisfying. I look into her bedroom now and I can feel her presence...and I am thankful for the final gift she gave me.


I remembered when she was in control, and when I needed her-and she was always there for me. As her memory worsened, I began to appreciate my mother in a way I never knew possible.