Sunday, January 31, 2010


I had a bit of an epiphany the other night.

I was crouched down hooking up lines on my dad’s home hemodialysis machine to make a batch of solution for his next day’s therapy, a nearly four-hour process I have been assisting him with every other day for more than two years.

The thing is, he usually does that particular part himself. I’m usually — or “should be” — home or socializing or doing something “fun.”

I guess.

I mean, isn’t that what most people are doing? Spending their Friday nights dressed up, looking fashionable, or at least relaxing with friends or family.


Not doing this.

So I was feeling a little sorry for myself, because let’s face it, the past two months have been unusually challenging.

My father broke his hip in mid-November, which had me running back and forth between checking on my mom and visiting him during his nearly three weeks in the hospital. When he came home, he couldn’t be alone or take the stairs in their two-story house so I have essentially moved in with him in the condo where he does his dialysis. I’ve helped with everything from pulling on and off these outrageously tight orthopedic socks morning and night to grocery shopping and drug store runs.

Just about the time we felt my dad was okay to be alone overnight, my mother, who’d been staying in their home with the animals, suddenly was feeling sick. On New Year’s Day I took her to the local ER. It wasn’t terribly clear what her problem was, other than signs of infection and a pain that moved around in her abdomen from one day to the next.

A week later my mother had both her gall bladder and appendix removed. For the next two weeks, she had one thing or another — from an incision that wouldn’t heal properly to chest pains that resulted in one test after another to ensure it was due to heartburn and not her heart.

It was nearly three weeks before she was discharged, so weak now she too could not be home alone.

So here we are, three of us, in my dad’s dialysis condo, me pulling socks on and off, helping my mother with her medications while encouraging her to do what’s necessary to regain her strength. Oh, yes, and now running to their home daily to retrieve mail, feed and water three indoor cats plus several she’s given refuge to outdoors. There is the dog, too, now also at the condo so I can let her out morning and night.

Somehow in the midst of this, I actually find time to do my work but not much else.

So there I was on a Friday night, not in the latest fashions or hairstyle but in the same uniform of jeans and a dark shirt, hair in a ponytail. Far from sitting in some trendy restaurant, I was sitting on my heels hooking up surgical tubing.

And then it hit me.

Sure, this kind of sucks. But I am doing something terribly significant. And not saying no to it or avoiding it.

I looked at myself as someone else might and thought, Wow. She’s awesome.

Here I was putting all these people I imagined were doing what I thought I should be doing — living the good life, looking like some image in a magazine — on a kind of pedestal.

Not that my family is living the good life right now. It is what it is. But I’m doing what I need to do, putting that first.

And in that, I realized I’m the one I should be putting on that pedestal. Along with so many others who do what is necessary rather than what is fun.

We just might not look like it at first.


Tracy Donohue said...

I totally agree, Ellen - I often feel my best when doing what is right/really important, but look my worst. Hang in there - you're doing great work! : )

Anonymous said...

You rock the pedestal, E. --stacy

Only the Half of It said...

Thanks ladies. And like Tracy said, I've often found the best, most enriching times in life are the little moments, the ones where you aren't looking for people to look at you.

Anonymous said...

You are doing important work Ellen and you are right to acknowledge that fact. There is satifaction in being so needed. I know your parents know how lucky they are to have you. Keep on keepin' on!--Rachel

Only the Half of It said...

Thanks Rachel. I always remember you and your sisters putting up the good fight when your dad was sick. You just have to adjust your schedule.

T.C. Cameron said...

The unassuming, unglamorous role is sometimes the most rewarding, memorable role.

It's exactly why I love prep sports in Detroit. For all of the dusty fields, gritty gyms, war-torn neighborhoods and such, there's people like Dave Soules at worn-down Detroit East Catholic or Will Robinson at Detroit Miller and later, the ancient gym still found at Detroit Pershing. Paul Temerian's thick, gravel voice echoing across Royal Oak Kimball's mud-slop field comes to mind, too.

They went without glitzy cars, clothes, and glory but instead gave tirelessly to the part of their lives they loved the most: kids and their community.

Cheers to you.

debra darvick said...


I'm with Stacy... you rock the pedestal.It is crucial that you realize you should be the one "on the pedestal." Doing what has to be done is not always done by everyone. How fortunate your parents are to have such a loving and dedicated daughter.

Only the Half of It said...

You know, I'm really liking this "Rock the Pedestal" line. Stacy should work in advertising! I think we should all be Rocking the Pedestal when we deserve it. Which is probably when we least look like it. Gotta love the irony. ;-)

PattyEats said...

Good for you, Ellen--and your parents and their critters. You will never regret this time together, no matter how hard it seems.

Anonymous said...

Thoughtful column, Ellen. I think there are fewer of us out there "all dressed up" on the weekend nights. More of us are, like you, home tending elderly or ill parents who need us. I can relate. But I am not so sure I would put myself on a pedestal...My mom was there for me, as was my dad when he was alive, so I just feel this is part of being part of a family.

Anonymous said...

P.S. I meant to add:
I do hope things improve for both of your parents. It sounds like you might be an only child, handling the caregiving on your own? I know how hard that is. Wishing you strength for the journey.

Susan said...

WOW! "She's Awesome," is exactly what I'm thinking. In fact, I'm reminded of the words of William Arthur Ward, “Each of us will one day be judged by our standard of life, not by our standard of living;  by our measure of giving, not by our measure of wealth; by our simple goodness, not by our seeming greatness.”

As we have come to the aid of my husband's mother numerous times of late I can only imagine the many sacrifices she made as he was growing up. There must have been countless times she wanted to be doing almost anything else other than tending to his constant needs. And thus it is with our parents. Bless you for your kindness. You rock the pedestal, indeed!

Only the Half of It said...

@ Cindy: I agree with you Cindy, that this is life and simply what is right to do.
But so many people -- sadly I find -- DO NOT want to do it... they don't want to deal with it. I've said to many friends with lots of siblings how lucky they are they have all that help. I cannot tell you how often people have told me it usually ends up on one person's shoulders.
I have a friend who told me she'd never do this home dialysis for her dad. That she'd insist he go into a center.
So you do deserve to be on that pedestal. Or a back pat. Or admiration. Whatever you want to call it. And I think moms and dads -- good ones that is -- do too! Such under-appreciated work!

@ Susan: Sounds like you guys deserve major pats on that back too... I think a lot of moms in general are unsung heroes. So it's not just me, but so many of us who do the duty, or as I might say, what is right. said...

I loved reading your latest addition to your blog. Sad but happy. You are an angel.

geoja said...

It is folks like you that make folks like me realize that the best things in life cannot be bought. It is my priviliage to know you. You belong to a special elite group called "The unsung heros". On behalf of your Mon and Dad I want to take the liberty to say thank you. Thank you for your love and devotion you selflessly give each day. You are one of the most beauitful people I know....especially in your pony tail!