What this single mom learned from caring for her dying parents

This is a guest post by single mom Cassi Upshaw, who lives in Gulf Shores, Ala., with her son. 

I cared for my mom for roughly seven years. She was on disability, from a kidney disease that was incurable. Over the years, it quickly went from her helping care for my son and helping me out as a single mom, to me caring for her, to my son even helping pick up the slack.

The biggest challenges were co-parenting while our roles were being reversed and I was more the parent, and she was more the child. Having to take her keys from her and set down ground rules was a very difficult task, as the illness progressed. I also had the challenge of being recently single, wanting to have a dating life, but moving back in with her because she had a larger house and financially it just made sense. The lines were blurred for a while about who was helping who. My desire to have my own life, but not to abandon her either, was a really hard thing to balance. When it came to hooking her up to machines nightly, after I'd worked a full day, gotten home and cooked dinner and did homework with my son, there was little time left for myself, much less any social activities. As selfish as that sounds, a social life was something that I needed then more than ever.

For the last 10 months of my mom's life, my dad stepped in and helped out, moving her into his home. While they were still married and had a perfectly fine relationship, they lived separately most of my adult life, and my mom always followed my son and me wherever we moved.

To this day, I harbor the guilt of not being there in her last days

The last few months of her life were the hardest. Not being there daily, but knowing I had to be here for my son was a difficult thing to balance. To this day, I harbor the guilt of not being there in her last days, as she quickly progressed into the latter stages of life. Ultimately I know I made the right decision, I took care of her for as long as I possibly could, I asked for, and accepted help when it was available. At the end of the day, my responsibility was to take care of my son, and my dad was capable of taking care of my mother. Related post: Tips for caring for your aging parents — when you're a single mom

After her passing, my dad didn't get sick, but he definitely began to show his age. For nearly the next year and a half, he became my person. My person to grieve with, complain with, and laugh with. He visited me at least one week every two months — sometimes one week every month. Our relationship had never been closer. For once, he was truly alone, and I tried to suffice as a companion in his life. He went through a rebellious stage, where he began drinking again and gambling, kind of like a young college kid trying to find his way through the ins and outs of the world. Having recently lost my mother, rather than ridicule him, I really found humor in it. Seeing him ultimately have fun, seeing him laugh and have a good time, seeing him hit on the pretty 30-somethings at the casino was hilarious, and they knew that 69-year-old man was harmless. In someways, he was still his ornery self, getting stuck in his old ways, and hypocritical thoughts, but in many other ways, he was a lively spirit, as though he had been born again. Related: Is long-term care insurance affordable for single women?

If he was ornery and spiteful, I kept my laughter to myself, knowing that one day I would miss his crotchety old ass.

As the weeks went on, he made comments about not feeling well, looking back on it, I overlooked all the signs, and ultimately, I'm really glad I did. Rather than worrying every single day about his well-being, I learned to appreciate him for what he was that day. If he was ornery and spiteful, I kept my laughter to myself, knowing that one day I would look back on that, and miss his crotchety old ass… and if he was light on his feet, carefree, and almost irresponsible in a sense, I ate it up. I made him feel like there was no reason to think anything less. He opened up to me about not ever wanting another woman to marry, but having one to snuggle up to you every now and then wouldn't be so bad.

The facade that I had grown up thinking he was so strong always, all disappeared. He became real to me. He became relatable. The last time he called was in the wee hours of the morning; he was at the casino, had entered some crazy drawing and was playing Texas hold'em. He left me a message, telling me that he had met up with some girls, the same ones he had spent the previous weekend getting to know and that he was having a great time. He went to bed at night and never woke up.

Alone might be where I'm at, but I can always depend on myself, and I won't ever let me down.

The challenges I now face are not having someone to call when I have a question about parenting. No longer feeling like I have someone on my side, no matter what might happen. The harsh reality of being ultimately alone, some days, it's overwhelming. But I've learned that I'm far stronger than I ever thought I could be. I've learned, that I lived the first 29 years of my life scared, I was scared of everything. I constantly called to check on my parents, wondering if they were OK every minute of every day. I've double, triple, quadruple locked my doors, always afraid of what might happen. But when my parents died, when they both finally left me, and I learned what it was to be ultimately alone. I found the strength inside myself. I realized, alone might be where I'm at, but I know I can always depend on myself, and I won't ever let me down. 

I realized, despite being scared for 29 years, everyone still dies. My dad always used to say, “no one gets out of here alive.” There's really no truer statement… So rather than being scared, now I'm living. At 30 years old, I'm living. I'm living my life the best that I can every single day. I'm being the best mom, the best employee, the best woman, the best everything I can. I realized, rather than blaming circumstances or people influencing your life for the negative outcome, dismiss it, and push forward. Channel that energy into something positive.

We no longer have problems, but challenges.

We no longer have problems, but challenges, and it takes as much energy to bitch about one as it does to find a solution and pursue it. So while my challenges maybe or may not be what you're currently experiencing, we will all eventually come to the same conclusion. We will be here, and our parents won't. So find your strength now. Love them for where they are in their life, wherever that might be at the moment. And learn to push forward, for your parents may have left you, but there is still a little someone looking up, depending on you to be the parent to them.

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About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.


  1. Keshia on March 2, 2018 at 1:07 pm

    Brought tears to my eyes you are an amazing person and I admire you girl!! Stay strong

    • Emma on March 3, 2018 at 7:26 am

      Thanks for saying that – I agree :)

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