Blog: Loving our moms and the conversations we’re afraid to have as caregivers

Simple Health

Two perspectives of adult children as caregivers. (Photo by Ross Tschirn/Jose Torres)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Moms are resilient, strong, brave, remarkable and our heroes. They have the strength to carry us for nine months, and then spend hours in labor to welcome us into the world. Some of us won’t come close to reaching or understanding the level of love our moms have for us. As children, we wanted to make our own rules and be the boss of the house. We didn’t know that one day we could be the parent to our aging parents.

Perhaps this is a chance for us adult children to say “Thank you for all your sacrifices,” or can it be a burden of love? Perhaps it’s both? It’s something I struggle with as my sweet mother gets older and starts showing signs of mobility issues as she reaches her 70th birthday.

Sometimes the pain of witnessing our moms getting older, seeing them sick and struggle, can be a blessing in disguise. It happened to my close friend and personal trainer Ross Tschirn.

“I just didn’t know what was going to happen to my mom,” Ross said as he shared his story of living the corporate life in Houston when he got a call that changed his trajectory.

Ross left Louisiana and moved to Texas to work in the oil and gas industry after graduating from LSU. Six months in, his mom called and told him she had stage 3 colon cancer.

“I quit my job, moved back home to Louisiana. It was hard. It was definitely hard to see my mom, you know, going through these things and suffering. I mean, that’s my mom. You know, she’s my rock, like my mom is everything to me. I’m such a mama’s boy,” Ross said with a proud and big grin.

The decision to leave Houston came easy. Ross’s six year relationship with his girlfriend just ended, his job wasn’t fulfilling and he was working just to live. For the 21-year-old, earning $50,000 a year looked good on paper. However, rent isn’t cheap, there are bills to pay, and taking care of his pup Odin left him dry.

“I had $0 leftover, so I was making this money to live in this place that I didn’t even like. This makes no sense. I’m making money just to spend it,” Ross said.

His role as a caregiver was to be a support system. As the older brother of two siblings, Ross was there to be the rock for his family. But, living at home wasn’t easy. Ross felt lost, depression kicked in, seeing his mom sick took a toll. This is not how he wanted to remember his mom.

“I was just like smoking weed, playing video games, doing nothing with my life,” Ross said. “I was trying to get away because it was so hard to see. I just thought I wasn’t going to have a mom anymore, you know.”

Ross’s journey hits close to home. My mother, or as I and my friends affectionately call her, Mama Torres, is just as resilient. Growing up in a small village in Mexico, she helped raise 11 of her brothers and sisters. She made sacrifices to make sure one of her sisters would go to college, bought a home for our family, and a home for her parents. She, too, was a caregiver. How she managed to stretch $5 US dollars (in the 1970s in Mexico) to make ends meet amazes me. My favorite coffee spot charges more than $5 for a medium cup.

Mama Torres still has a fire inside her, and has big plans. But, back and leg pain get in the way. It’s hard for me to watch and, to be honest, it frustrates me. Mom is diabetic. A few years ago she met with one of her new doctors for the first time and she broke down. She said living a stressful life caused her not to eat properly and she blamed herself for having diabetes. That was the first time I saw mom cry.

Over the years I’ve seen her get back up after getting knocked down, and she did it without showing any weakness. This moment at the doctor’s office Mama Torres showed a new strength — she wasn’t afraid of being vulnerable. As her caregiver, I make sure she has her medications, that she’s up to date on her visits, and then there’s Medicare.

My struggle is getting Mama Torres to move and I just have to make peace that this is something I can’t control. I’m hard on myself for not being able to motivate her. I often ask myself “What am I doing wrong?” But, I do have some wins. For example, she loves to go shopping, so I make sure to find a parking spot that is hundreds of feet from the door. This is my way of having mom get some movement in. She humors me and takes on the challenge, but, oh boy, the face she makes — just picture side eyes for days.

While being a caregiver can be hard, it can also be a blessing. For me, I’m getting to live life with my best friend. For Ross, it was a defining moment in his young life. While taking care of his mom, Ross didn’t know his life was about to change.

“If I didn’t have fitness, all throughout the time my mom was sick, all throughout the time when I was struggling, I would have never made it here,” he said. “I don’t even know what would happen to me. I’d probably be depressed working some job and just not even knowing who I am.”

Mama Tschirn came out strong. She beat colon cancer! In 2017, she got to ring “the bell” — a tradition for cancer survivors — to celebrate the end of treatment.

Today, Ross is his own boss. He’s a full-time personal trainer in Austin and teaches health and wellness to seniors at a local home. And, it’s all thanks to mom.

Thank you, mom.

I met Ross for the first time on January 1, 2020. Since then he’s been my personal trainer and close friend during my fitness journey. (KXAN Photo/Jose Torres)

Jose Torres is a morning news producer with KXAN. His blog will bring stories of hope and determination from others who have fought through their own health struggles and life challenges. He looks forward to sharing those conversations in future blogs.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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