I love my family. I love them so much so that it’s actually frightening. I dread the day that one of them is not in my life. Maybe that’s why I keep my distance from them. Or maybe that’s why they kept their distance from me. You see, we’re not big huggers in my family. We barely say that we love one another. For a small family, we aren’t really that affectionate at all. I can’t recall us ever being affectionate. Maybe we are too scared to eventually feel pain from losing one another that we actually choose to be apart. Maybe it’s because we’re too afraid to show each other who we each really are and how we’ve changed from the mold that we’re supposed to fit into. Either way, it seems pretty silly but I can’t think of anything else because it’s not like we don’t love each other. We do. Tremendously. And it’s not like I have any doubt in my mind that if ever I were in trouble, if ever I did something that would disappoint them, if ever I was a “failure”, they wouldn’t walk through fire to help and support me. So how do I know that they love me so much and that I love them so much? Sacrifice. I know and realize the great sacrifices they’ve each made for me.
A single mother, raising two children, living in the section 8 projects, working two jobs and ruining her credit because she used credit cards to pay for her children’s Catholic school education from pre-K to grade 12. A woman who would sacrifice meals so that her children would never go to bed hungry. Talk about sacrifice. I had no idea that everyone else didn’t live as we did. I was happy living in section 8. I never realized that there was a stigma attached to living in section 8/affordable housing. I always thought we lived in a pretty cool apartment. The people were nice, hardworking people. My friends were a very eclectic bunch. I never even realized that my family was incomplete without a father figure because there were a handful of families that resembled mine in that way. My older brother might have felt differently but me, I look back and don’t think I was lacking anything in my childhood. At least not from my mother. If anything, my one complaint would be my mother not forcing me to study harder or not choosing my own career path for me. My mother always said, “As long as you’re happy, I’m happy. You can be whatever you want to be. Just make sure you’re happy”. My mother would make getting good grades something more special than our birthdays and Christmas was always exciting. We didn’t share many hugs but somehow I know I was loved. And looking back, I realize just how many times she made sacrifices to ensure my brother and I were safe and cared for in every way possible.
A single mother, raising one child, my grandmother left her husband to move to the United States. My mother and grandmother each have different ideas of what it means to raise a child. According to my mother, she didn’t live with my grandmother until she was in her pre-teens. According to my grandmother, she took care of her daughter the best way she knew how and that was by making sure good people were caring for her daughter when she couldn’t, that her daughter always had clean clothes to wear and that she received an education. Maybe it was the different time. My grandmother told me that when she moved to New York from Puerto Rico, her apartment building wouldn’t allow children. And how she worked in factories either making candy canes or even piecing dresses together all while starching men’s military uniforms on the side for extra cash. But my grandmother also, very proudly, admits/brags about how much she enjoyed her youth in New York- going out dancing and drinking with her friends- all the time. So who knows what my grandmother’s sacrifice really looked like for her daughter? All I know is what her sacrifice looked like for me. I personally don’t know much about my grandmother’s history. And I know that when I was younger I used to fear her. Not for any real reason. It’s just that my grandmother had one of those moles on the side of her nose that resembled something wicked and she was always sounded so strict when she spoke. I don’t remember spending much time with her and maybe that’s also what accounts for that fear. What I do know for sure is that when it was too dangerous for me to stay home alone, my grandmother made sure she was always there for me. The woman I only saw once during the weekend maybe only a few times a month, became my savior who made my home feel safe everyday after school. If it wasn’t for her sacrifice to care for me, I don’t think I would be alive today. The sacrifice may not have seemed much to her as she was already retired but, my grandmother was always home by the time I got out of school and had dinner ready for us. She stood there until my mother came home from work. My grandmother was definitely a strict woman. And I only truly appreciated her presence there with me after school in my later years. Looking back, I realize that her watching over me during that time was not only a sacrifice for her (because she could have easily enjoyed retirement like she enjoyed her years raising/not raising her own daughter) but also possibly her redemption for not being there for her own daughter.
My mother (today):
Presently, my mother’s greatest sacrifice to date is caring for her mother. Instead of being in retirement and saying that she can’t help because she is “too old” or she won’t help because her mother didn’t care for her, my mother gets up at 4:30 a.m., 5 days a week, to get her mother ready for the adult day center. My mother meets my grandmother at 4:30 p.m. when she returns from the day center, bathes my grandmother, fixes dinner for her and stays with my grandmother until I return home from work. The dynamic between a mother with dementia and her daughter is never a great one. My mother deals with a lot of emotional struggles when caring for her mother. It definitely takes a toll but at the end of the day, my mother says to me “She is my mother. I have to do it”. Huge sacrifice, indeed.
A gentle man who grew up with all the hugs and affection from his family but yet still keeps his heart guarded from the outside. He said yes to joining my family. He said yes to moving my family across states to live closer to us. He said yes to have my grandmother with dementia come live with us when she could no longer care for herself. He said yes to taking care of a blind diabetic dog and giving her insulin shots. He says yes everyday when I ask for him to watch my grandmother for the five minutes I need to change or get ready. Talk about sacrifice! He sacrificed and still sacrifices his freedom and his personal space all because he loves me and he loves my family like they were his own blood.
So who cares? What’s the point of this story? The point is that love is more than the words. Love is more than pretty things that can be purchased at a store. Love is more than hand-holding and PDA. Love is more than sitting on the couch and watching T.V. or texting all day long with each other. True love is in the sacrifices made. The sacrifices made to ensure that your loved one is better than you ever could have been. And those sacrifices don’t have to be huge. Not by any means. When I’m overly tired and having a long night with my grandmother, I remember that I am the person I am because of the sacrifices my mother and grandmother made for me. Those sacrifices are what deepened the love I have for my family without even knowing it at first and I’m grateful to be able to recognize those sacrifices now. Sure it would’ve been great to have heard the words “I love you” more often or to have had more hugs. But my life was a happy one filled with smiles, a devoted mother and fond childhood memories with the occasional family game nights. And I remember that my life is still filled with smiles, a devoted mother and fond memories with occasional family game nights. That reflection is how I find strength and love in my life, in those sacrifices that so many of us take for granted. I hope that if anyone ever feels like life is lacking that love, s/he can think back and realize the sacrifices others have made as their sign of love, support and affection. I think that’s the greatest form of love that anyone can give.