My wife had just graduated from college and started her first job when her mother had a brain aneurysm. She quit work and spent the next two years tending to her mother’s needs and seeing to her rehabilitation.
Once her mother stabilized and it became clear she would never fully recover, my wife assumed the responsibility of hiring, training, and supervising the aides and attendants necessary to support her mother, as well as, providing food and shelter. When we married, we carried on together until her mom’s caretaking became more than we could handle at home. Reluctantly, we decided to place her in a nursing home.
This was a difficult decision for all of us. My wife took our inability to continue caring for her mother as something of a personal failure. For me, the decision resurrected a lot of painful memories of nursing homes I had investigated for the U. S. Senate. After that experience, I swore I would never put a family member in a nursing home.
We knew it was the last place her mother wanted to be; but, happily, she settled in quickly. While there were indeed some unpleasant aspects to the transition, there were also some pleasant surprises.
Chief among these is the joy she takes in playing Bingo. Bingo sessions are organized twice a week. She always goes and, judging from her accounts, always wins.
I thought the pleasure she took in this was obvious and superficial until the first Christmas approached. Then on one of our visits, she asked my wife to pull a box out from under the bed. When we opened the box we found a strange assortment of things inside – a book, jewelry, toys, and toiletries.
Her mom explained she had purchased these things with the points she had won playing bingo. With obvious pleasure, she said they were Christmas gifts she wanted us to wrap for her.
After years of being taken care of and continually being on the receiving end, she had finally found a way to give. Nothing I have ever experienced spoke more eloquently to the depth of this need than her excitement as she told us who each gift was for.
Being able to give is one of the great privileges in life. In fact, the ability to give can be said to define human development. If you think about it, infancy is a time of total dependence. Everything has to be given to us. The transition to adolescence begins when we start to become independent and learn to take care of ourselves. The mark of maturity is when we begin to care for others.