Every night at about 7:00, I head out for a 3–4 mile walk. In the winter, it is dark. I am usually the only person out. I walk by houses and see lights go off and on and wonder what those families must be doing. One night, I noticed a black Cadillac drive by. This is a quiet neighborhood and some evenings, I see no cars. The black Cadillac pulled into the driveway of an empty house. The house is almost hidden by a wall of evergreens. The lady that owns the house lives in the condominium community where my mom once lived. From what I have heard, this elderly widow goes to the house during the day, and caregivers take her back to the condo in the afternoon. The house is quite lovely. I am sure it holds many memories for this lady. Although she lives alone, she leaves various lights on in the house when she departs so as to make someone like me wonder what this family, years ago, would have been doing on a winter’s evening. But I am wondering about the car in the driveway, it pulls up and stops with the headlights on the house. In just a quick moment, the car circles around, pulls out of the driveway, and heads down the road. It seems my schedule is the same as the mystery driver of the Cadillac. Night after night, the car pulls into the driveway, stops, and then leaves. Finally, I see the driver one night; she is an African-American woman with a small elderly woman in the passenger seat. Apparently this caregiver goes out into the dark winter nights as a favor to the lady in her care. I imagine the owner of the house worries about her home and all that remains in the memories it holds for her. I imagine she talks this kind lady into taking her by one last time each day to make sure everything is okay. It is probably the only thing that will calm her so that she can rest before another day unfolds.
It takes a very special person to honor this request. So many caregivers amaze me. They are invisible to most people, moving around in the darkest corners of life. They receive very little in compensation and in notice. But they show up when we need them most.
When my mom was ill, it was a lonely time for me. Watching my mom die from dementia was heart wrenching. My smart and beautiful mom became a paranoid and fearful person. She no longer trusted the ones who loved her. She really did not remember who they were. But there were a few caregivers who could reach her and patiently talk her into a bath. They would style her hair and add a touch of makeup to her often confused face. Even with all its blank expression, she would admire herself in the mirror and smile. I would see her look so beautiful in the madness of her disease, and it would take me back to the golden days with her.
Once her illness had robbed her mind, but not her mobility, she still wanted to go out. A special care giver would pick her up and take her for coffee. She would listen patiently to my mom’s confusing, but important conversation. I would watch as she held my mom’s arm and walked down the side walk. She would tenderly adjust my mom’s hair and smile with twinkling eyes as my mom looked to her for safety and trust. Those moments were so important to my mother. Having a human just sit over coffee and talk about nothing, and yet everything.
When my mom was dying, it was not familiar faces of family and friends that held her hand and looked into her tired and weary eyes. No, besides my family, no other person in my mom’s life showed up to love her as her life was ending. When I would walk in her room at the assisted living, it was a worker wiping a tear from her eye as I appeared in the doorway. It was the owner of the facility changing her bedding and adding a beautiful quilt to keep her warm. It was her friend who took her for coffee that drove an hour to hold her hand and remind her of their special conversations on her last day on Earth. On the day she died, there was my family, and these special caregivers that sent my mom on her last journey with a tenderness I can barely describe.
With fresh flowers around her, and classical music in a dim room with mostly strangers, my mom said goodbye. When my heart was breaking, it was a hospice nurse that held my hand, not a familiar face. It was the caregivers that feed the sick, change the sheets, give the baths and change the diapers that cried with me. It was these very special humans that, for a very short period in my mother’s life, became angels. I will never forget their kindness and empathy for doing the things that other people do not take the time to do for an old and confused woman.
When we value work in America, we give the least to the ones that matter the most. We forget their struggles. We forget what they do for us on lonely nights in despair. If we do anything to change who we are as a society, let’s not forget those who venture out in the dark on winter evenings to take care of the ones we love. They too need care. As our society drifts away from love and tolerance, allow yourself to reward generously the angels among us. Most of them barely make it from month to month. Yet it is these special people who are there to hold our hands when no one else is there. Now when I see the headlights of the black Cadillac pulling into the empty driveway, I smile. It appears that in the seemly insignificant of life lies tremendous hope.
Originally published at medium.com