This guest post is written by Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, one of my former professors who has served as a writing mentor for me for years. I’m so grateful for Dr. Murphy! If you want to hear more about how she’s helped me, be sure to check out my podcast about those who add value through encouragement.
For over a year and a half, I received daily updates from my lifelong friend, Kim Bowie MacIntyre, about her mother, Mrs. Patricia Bowie. Mrs. Bowie had an intractable autoimmune disease that was worsening over time. Although Kim had been her mother’s caregiver off and on for several years, she served as her mother’s primary caregiver throughout most of the early months of the pandemic. As anyone who has cared for a small child or ill friend or relative knows, caregiving is difficult even under the best circumstances. In the midst of a pandemic, caregiving becomes a decision-making minefield.
The pandemic has shed a light on just how difficult caregiving is, and the number of people serving as caregivers is growing. According to a recent report from AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, over twenty percent of adults in the United States are unpaid caregivers. Caregivers provide both physical and emotional support—becoming guardians, protectors, and attendants to those in our society who are the most vulnerable. Those attributes of care seem less and less valued in American culture at a time when they are most needed. It’s a shame that we as a society don’t celebrate caregivers as enthusiastically as we celebrate other heroes. Perhaps this lack of recognition can be attributed to the fact that the majority of caregivers are women.
I am grateful to have known Mrs. Bowie and that she had a daughter like Kim who was willing to take on the mantle of primary caregiver. People like Mrs. Bowie deserve no less. In addition to raising two children, she worked for decades as a secretary and administrative assistant at several businesses and institutions of higher education, including Lyon College and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences where the Patricia C. Bowie Nursing Scholarship is awarded annually. She was a devout Catholic who lived her faith with grace and humility. Mrs. Bowie also possessed a wonderful sense of humor. Born and raised in New Orleans, she had a heart-melting voice that always made me smile when she called me “honey” or “darling.”
On the eighteenth of June, I received the phone call from Kim that I had been dreading for days.
“She’s gone,” Kim sobbed over and over.
There was nothing I could say in reply except, “I’m sorry.”
Before she passed away, Mrs. Bowie told me on several occasions that she felt fortunate to have a passionate advocate like Kim. Vigilant advocacy has become necessary in order to navigate America’s current medical morass. I, too, am grateful for caregivers like Kim who devote so much time and energy to their loved ones. I know they suffer immense sorrow when the person they cared for so deeply is gone. Over time, caregivers may be comforted by the fierce love they had for the one they find themselves lost without. Memories of that love can assuage, but never fully heal, their grief.
Teresa Burns Murphy is the author of a novel, The Secret to Flying (TigerEye Publications, 2011). Her writing has been published in Amazing Graces: Yet Another Collection of Fiction by Washington Area Women (Paycock Press, 2012), Academic Exchange Quarterly, Chicago Quarterly Review, Dreamstreets, Evening Street Review, Gargoyle Magazine, Inquiry, Grokking the Fullness, The Literary Nest, The Opiate, The Penmen Review, Pulse Literary Review, Rkvry Quarterly Literary Journal, The Science Teacher, Slippery Elm Literary Journal, Stirring: A Literary Collection, Southern Women’s Review, THEMA, The Tower Journal, The Washington Post, and Westview. Visit her website to purchase Dr. Murphy’s books or read more about her work.