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My mother is an extraordinary woman. She inspires me to be a better person. She has spent seven years selflessly caring for my father after a horrific battle with Stage IV tongue cancer. During this time she would laugh with me, cry with me, and express her fears and frustrations with me. My mother is the definition of strength and courage while surrounded by heartbreak and human suffering.

During the time my mother was taking care of my father she had her own health issues. Her colon perforated in 2012 making her critically ill. It’s nothing short of a miracle she is still alive. In 2014 she underwent what her doctor referred to as “The Cadillac” of hernia surgeries leaving her cut hip to hip. Each time she encountered a health issue, her main concern was getting well so she could return home to take care of my father. She would tell the doctors, “You need to fix me, I have to get home to my husband, he needs me.”

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My father constantly reminded me that he was alive because of my mother’s resilience. Two days before he died I was alone with him in the hospital, and we had what would be our last heart-to-heart conversation.  Looking back, I believe my father knew he was going to die and was preparing me. He held my hand looked at me straight in the eyes and said, “Always remember, I’m alive because of your mother. She has dedicated her life to taking care of me. Now I need you and your sister to look out for her. I will always love you, and I will always be with you.” He died 48 hours later.

It was not uncommon for my father to scan old photos of my mom and email them to me, but he did this more frequently as his health began to decline. Each photo would have one simple caption, “My Marie.” My parents would leave love notes throughout the house for each other, notes we are still finding. In 2015 my father spent two months in rehab where he wrote a note to my mother thanking her for loving him and keeping him alive. At that time he was so weak and frail it even showed in his shaky penmanship. We found this note shortly after his passing.

Whenever my father was hospitalized, he told his nurses, doctors, and me about the sacrifices my mother was enduring to provide him with care “fit for a king.” The love my parents shared was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of love. I believe my mother was able to provide the type of care she did for so long because my parents had a marriage that fostered true altruism and unconditional love.

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The life of a caregiver is not easy. I watched my mother selflessly care for my father. She spent numerous sleepless nights fearful that my very weak father would fall if he needed to get up and use the bathroom. Her days would be spent caring for my very sick, frail father. Although he had hospice care for the last four months of his life, that was only for a few hours during the week. It was my mother who was my father’s primary caregiver. It was my mother who dedicated her life to taking care of my father. It was my mother who made sure my father was alive and a vibrant part of my life, my sister’s life, and the lives of his grandbabies.

But if you ask her, she will tell you with tears in her eyes that her love didn’t save my father. She will tell you that she would get frustrated and sometimes yell. She will tell you that as my father’s health rapidly declined, he began to require around-the-clock care, and she had a difficult time keeping up.

We often forget that the caregiver is human. I certainly did. I was so focused on my father and his illness, I forgot my mother was the one breathing life into him each day. I can only hope that as my mother now needs me for her own health issues, I can fill her very large shoes and provide her with the same amount of unconditional love and support she provided my father.

Originally published on the author’s blog

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Lisa Ingrassia

Lisa is the Director of Events at Zenith Marketing Group, an insurance brokerage firm located in Freehold, NJ. She is passionate about sharing her father’s journey with cancer and bringing attention the difficult path a caregiver must walk. She has written guest articles for the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders, The Mighty & Her View From Home. She is also a guest blogger for The Huffington Post. Fun fact: She’s obsessed with her Boston terrier Diesel and loves the color blue.

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