Taking Care

December 22, 2021

Emily Iorio (she/her/hers), Low Entropy Volunteer Writer


When I think back to my earliest memories, I often wonder if I’ve dreamt them into existence. Memories so lapsed that they appear to me as blurred colours, as scents or feelings. I remember spending afternoons hanging off my mother’s legs as she spoke to the neighbour, Debbie. I can recall the vibrant colours of her skirt and the smell of the hot driveway asphalt as I ran circles around her feet, peeking through her legs at Debbie’s perfectly manicured lawn. I remember racing across the hall to my parents’ bedroom after waking from a bad dream, the feeling of refuge under their heavy beige duvet (because even the most relentless of monsters couldn’t get me under there). No matter how foggy the memories, I never forget the feeling of safety in the presence of loved ones. From my earliest memories, I was cared for – deeply. 


Let me begin by acknowledging how fortunate I was for the childhood I reminisce about. I grew up in a home with a wonderful family who loved me tremendously, and for that I am grateful. But as many of us do, I took for granted that feeling of security, of knowing that someone would always be there to make calm of my chaos. Even as I matured into adulthood, I looked to my parents for advice – after all, who really knows anything about winter tires or taxes? No matter how sticky a situation I found myself in, my parents had a way of reassuring me that all would be okay. That speeding ticket or ex-boyfriend wouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of my existence.


I suppose I was naïve in my belief that I had decades of trial-and-error left ahead of me, with my parents there to pick up the pieces. My mid-twenties panned out quite differently than I had hoped. One by one, my older brother, mother and step-father were diagnosed with terminal illnesses, each of them requiring a significant amount of care.


This threw my world into chaos, into entropy, if you will. The hierarchy I trusted no longer existed, and I felt I had no one to confide in to ensure I stayed afloat. With so much on everyone’s plate, there was no room to entertain my mundane tribulations. I stayed afloat nonetheless because my options were to sink or swim. What mattered was looking after my family, a brand-new, full-time commitment that prompted me to quit my job in order to be a present caretaker and to spend more cherished moments with the ones I loved before they were gone.


Perhaps you can relate. And if you can, I am incredibly sorry. The pain and trepidation of caring for an ill parent is unexplainable. All of a sudden, the unwavering individuals who held your hand through summertime scraped knees, academic failures and gut-wrenching heartbreak, are helpless – unable to act as the safety you’ve always relied on.  


There is something incredibly unsettling and downright scary about physically caring for a parent. Especially as a young caretaker. Accidently hurting my parents or being unable to understand their needs were very real fears of mine. Seeing the fear that my parents expressed caused me to spiral at times. I figured that if they were fearful, I certainly should be as well. Putting on a brave face was no easy feat. There were arguments, frustrations and miscommunications almost constantly. We memorized hospital hallways, morning and bedtime bathroom routines, and the monotonous alarms that signified an empty IV bag. There was lost sleep, emergencies and countless mistakes. 


But above all else, there was a mutual, deep appreciation. 


Amid the fear and unknown, I felt especially grateful for the opportunity to show my family the love and security that they have always shown me. When it came to gratitude, we left nothing unsaid – although there were days where gratitude manifested in defeated glances, tears and half-smiles.


It is curious to me why I was destined to be a caretaker. What I do know is that my capacity for empathy and compassion has become my most honourable trait. The wisdom of my mother’s last months, the courage of my brother’s final moments and the way my step-father approached his situation with his strong will and humour will sit with me for the rest of my life. The memories of these days will grow foggy, and to be quite honest, I hope they do. But unwavering in recollection will always be the gratitude I feel for what I was able to provide my mother, step-father and brother – the comfort of that heavy beige duvet during what felt like a nightmare we’d never wake from. A place where even the most relentless of monsters couldn’t get them. Safe in my presence, and cared for – deeply. 


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