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The Fearless Caregiver

(above, left) My mother on her 90th birthday, October 3, 2013. (above, right) The entire Foulkes family – My mother (Clemonteese), my late father (Arthur) and me (Roland), taken in Christmas, December, 1987, six months after my father’s diagnosis of, and surgery for, Metastatic Colon Cancer and six months prior to Arthur’s death on May 18th, 1988. The black & white inset photo is of our family in 1956 when I was six months old.

This year, 2013, has been a significant one for me and my family. On 18th May, we commemorated the 25th anniversary of my father’s home-going, memorializing his life with ads in our local papers. On 3rd October, and for the remainder of that month, we celebrated my mother’s 90th birthday. My status as their only child guaranteed my other status as the primary caregiver for both—for a period of 25 years.

Prior to this period, and oftentimes from great distances, I watched, learned, and assisted both my school-teacher mother and postal-worker father, together with their siblings, in the care for each set of their parents prior to their respective deaths between 1977 and 1992. During each of these periods, I was in different parts of the country and world: New York, Ghana, California, Botswana, and Florida. That knowledge of how to give care to aging parents was indeed powerful! Knowledge is power and I will add: “But, it is the application of that knowledge that empowers.”

Thus, it was not until I applied that knowledge that I became empowered in this “new” role. I learned not to take “NO” for an answer (from them at times and also from their medical providers). I demanded and received help from a variety of sources (our church, extended family, friends, colleagues, and social services agencies), and knew and understood the significance of taking care of myself first— through prayer and expanding my life-long relationship with God, knowing “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and also through my practice of Transcendental Meditation, a physical exercise program—all while volunteering, writing, public speaking, and spending as much time outdoors with friends and family as possible.

On Wednesday May 18th, 1988, as my father lay dying from the devastation of Metastatic Colon Cancer, floating in and out of consciousness, the last words he freed from his lips were, “Roland, son, take care of your mother.” It seems as if he saw her—our—future challenges with Alzheimer’s Dementia, Diabetes, and Hypertension, and wanted to prepare me for what was ahead.

In January 2006, in accord with my mother’s wishes, I said “No” to the medical folk who wanted to cease care for my mother who had clinically died on arrival to the emergency room. I demanded that they do all that was in their power to keep her alive, even in her fragile state, with multiple organ failure, and fortunately for both of us, she received the care needed to restore her to life and health. Today, in 2013, many of those same medical and nursing personnel call her a living miracle.

So, yes, I learned from each of my parents who and what a “Fearless Caregiver” was, should, ought, and must be. Eventually, perhaps somewhat reluctantly, I finally acknowledged, accepted and identified with the label “Caregiver.” It is one that described all that I was, and had been doing for my mother over the past quarter century, and for my father before. I understood that I could “make a difference” both in the world at-large and in the care of my mother specifically. I saw, and continue to see my role as a member of Team Clemonteese Foulkes just as important, and as critical, if not more so, than all of her doctors, nurses, therapists, technicians, and insurers combined.