A Personal Essay on Caring for a Sick Parent

y mother Ezell Perkins-a small-framed woman from the South with a bright smile and pull-no-punches attitude-managed to love all 10 of her children exactly the same. In this fact I am certain, because I've spent my whole life watching her.

I watched her be a teacher every night as she helped us with our homework and assured, "It's OK to count with your fingers and toes." I watched her be a counselor, stopping sibling rivalries in their tracks with a stern stare while delivering generations-old wisdoms about the importance of family.

But her main role was a nurse-fixing bumps and bruises using homemade remedies and rendering the direst of physical and emotional wounds painless with a simple, "Everything is going to be all right."

Sure, our father loved us plenty, but our mom helped us grow. And she religiously followed life's golden rules: Do the right thing and treat others the way the way you want to be treated. In this way, she became my hero before I even really knew what a hero was, as she was never afraid to speak her mind to anyone who was doing the wrong thing.

In life's cruel way, we spend years watching our mothers (and fathers) knocking out any obstacle that dares to stand in their way. They become our undisputed champions, our tireless cheerleaders and the undefeated repairmen of our problems.


Until the day comes when life deals a hand even they can't win. And the person, the superhero you thought was indestructible, is broken.

It started small at first. She seemed sick only every other month. Maybe she needed to take more vitamins; more iron, I thought. After all, she was getting older. I was in denial. And patiently, I waited for her usual warming words of, "Everything is going to be all right." But this time, those words never came.

Every doctor's visit, every checkup, I asked all the right questions the way she taught all of us to. And in relaying the doctor's latest findings, I felt the same strength and tenderness of a mother caring for a sick child that she showed to so many of us. She had a terminal illness. But like I watched her do so many times before, I never gave up hope.

Through it all, our roles never completely reversed. She was still the mother, and I was still her child. Yet with the strength she gave me as a child, I was able to take care of us both.

Before she passed, she told me, "You have done so much for me." And I said, "No, you have done so much for me." And in that moment I thought of all the things she has taught and I understood, as a mother with children of my own, that the very least you want to do in life is teach your children something.

She taught me a lot. Those lessons live on in my children, as my lessons will live on in their children. And although all heroes must face the realities of their "humanity," it's the lessons they teach us that help them live forever.

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