Vicky Alfonso Gennarose

INCLUDEnyc Voices

Millie Lori Jean

Happy birthday, Mom

My mom turns 79 years old tomorrow.  When I look into her eyes, I still see a glimpse of the woman who raised me and my three siblings.  I see the woman who attended PTA meetings, made our school costumes, worked two jobs and went to college.  She was president of our block association, got elected city officials to clean the neighborhood park, picketed to have a dangerous two-way street made into a one-way.  And, a mom, who let her kids have a party for any reason!   

I’m now at the age my mom was when she started to experience health problems and was diagnosed with Hydrocephalus.  The early years weren’t so bad.  The adjustment was mostly mine: to moving back home, getting married, and working.   Eventually, Mom required help while I was at work and needed someone to talk to, so she got a home attendant (now called a home health aide).  She started with four hours per day, and now receives 12 hours, 7 days a week. 

We had to fight the system for every additional hour.  At first, doctors had to fill out an M11q form stating why additional hours were needed.  That never worked, so I completed the form, wrote the summary myself, and had the doctor sign it.  Without the home health aides, I’m not sure where Mom or I would be today.

As Mom’s caregiver, I now know the woman she is.  I knew “Mom,” but not the woman. We discussed politics, her views on current events, her childhood, being an immigrant, our love for old Hollywood movies and its actors, cake and ice cream, her loves, and her disappointments.  I wouldn’t have traded this for anything – well, maybe one thing: for her to be able to take care of herself.  Not so I wouldn’t have to, but because she had dreams. Mom was an awesome woman. She lived right, did right by others.  Why her?

Then again, why not her?  Is it fair to anyone?  Any family?   

It hasn’t been easy, and many times, I’ve cried in the shower. I’ve also wondered what my life would have been like if I hadn’t taken this on. One of my lowest and hardest times was when Mom was in a nursing home for a short period. 

Mom’s ex-husband, my Dad, said to me, “Everyone has a calling and this is yours.  You’ve been taking care of people your whole life.”

And he was right. Sometimes the hardest parts are accepting who you are, accepting your situation, and accepting help.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I still wonder “what if” (not as often though, as I know time is against us). But when my Mom smiles at me and her eyes light up, so does my heart.

There are many people who have helped me, and I hope I’ve adequately expressed my appreciation and thanks to them.  A few stand out: Mrs. “E,” the caseworker at Bronx Casa who gave me guidance; my mom’s home attendants Violet, Zednah, Angella, and Valda; Richie, my husband, who rubs her hands almost every afternoon and gives her ice cream; Janet the visiting nurse; my friends and my family.

I also want to give a big shout out to my co-workers (current and former) who have allowed me to vent and cry, for being understanding and supportive.  A special thanks to Lori P. who helped me earlier this year in drafting an appeal letter and preventing Mom’s homecare hours from being reduced. We won! 

And, to my supervisor Steve, who simply mentioned an air mattress that rotates left to right, or left, center, right and moves to a new position every 15 minutes, or every two hours (Who knew such a thing existed?) that allows me to sleep through the night.  His suggestion changed the quality of my life.

The last few years have been hard. There have been many hospital stays and one surgery.  They say Mom has dementia, but still she recognizes me and most people.  Today, Mom can’t stand, walk, or feed herself, or do anything else for that matter. Talking is difficult for her, so she rarely speaks. It can be days before she speaks a word.  Last month, while I was saying goodnight, I noticed she was trying to speak, so I waited. 

She looked at me and said “Thank you,” loud and clear.  That’s my girl!  Of course, I cried. 

So, tomorrow, please wish my mom, Ms. G, a happy 79th birthday.

- Vicky