My mother, Adelaide and her sister Gloria were as different as two sisters could be. They were also as close.
In 1960 Adelaide and Pat [her husband] were living the "American Dream". Adelaide was a teacher. Pat was a business owner. Together they had just added their third child [me] to their family. Gloria was single, working as a beautician and living at home with her parents.
Adelaide and Gloria were two of seven siblings and my mother was less than two years older than Gloria. Gloria was the only unmarried sibling. 1960 was a bad year for the Clemente family. Both parents became ill and passed away within six weeks of each other. Gloria was now on her own but not for long.
Gloria and my family moved in together. I never knew a time when we weren't one family unit. In many ways I had two mothers. Gloria took me to my first day of school. Adelaide helped me with my homework. They all lavished gifts on my two siblings and me. We were one solid family unit.
I remember Gloria dating now and then and she travelled with her female friends but mostly she was always there with us.
As my parents had been there to help Gloria when my grandparents died, now it was Gloria's turn to be there for support. In 1970 my father passed away at the age of fifty. My siblings were adults but I was ten. Adelaide would have been alone if it weren't for her sister. Each of these women was strong in her own way and together they we able to face anything.
As Alzheimer's disease began to take over my mother, Gloria was there to take care of our house and look after Adelaide. She was a terrific help to me. Knowing Gloria was there gave me the freedom to continue with my lifestyle as usual. I had about ten extra years before I had to make any serious life changes.
"To the world you might be one person, but to one person you might be the world"
In 2001 the three of us were still the same tight family unit. My mother was struggling with the advancing manifestations of her disease, Gloria was still here to look after my mother and to afford me some flexibility and freedom. I was there to look after both of them. Gloria had been diagnosed with a rare cancer and had surgery. Now I had two "patients" under my care and under my roof.
A year later, the cancer returned and this time surgery was not an option. After speaking with the doctors, my sister and I made three decisions. First, we decided not to tell Gloria how grave her condition was. Second, we agreed that the benefits of treatment were small compared with the pain that the treatment would inflict. Third, we decided to call Hospice.
Now I had the wonderful workers from Hospice taking care of Gloria and a part-time aide to help me with Adelaide. In my early 40's I now found myself running an amateur nursing home.
"Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they're supposed to help you discover who you are"
Bernice Johnson Reagon
In 2003 Gloria left us. Two sisters separated after more than eighty years. I learned a lot. I learned more about healthcare than I ever wanted to know. I learned about dying and death. I learned how to become a better caregiver. I learned to ask for help when I need it. I learned how strong I am.