Dealing with an aging parent who needs assistance is a challenge that can quickly become a harried and almost unbearable experience when trying to find the right type of support. Hang on Tight. Pray: A Journey from Perfection to Peace, the new memoir from Dr. Cheryl Jordan, shares her own roller-coaster of experiences as she cared for her ailing mother.
"We are not always prepared to deal with sick and aging parents from an emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical standpoint," Dr. Cheryl Jordan says. Detailing her actions as a primary caregiver and the pain and joy experienced navigating a system that, at times, was ill-equipped to provide quality care for her mom and an aging population, the leadership coach shares how she used the life-altering skills she teaches to handle this unavoidable life event.
EBONY: How does your memoir capture the experiences you went through with your mom?
Dr. Cheryl Jordan: Writing my memoir reminded me of the end-of-life conversations we avoid having because we do not want to face the reality that one day our parents or a loved one may one day become incapacitated. The memoir illuminates my thoughts, emotions and actions as a primary caregiver and the pain and joy I experienced navigating a system that at times was ill-equipped to provide quality care for my mom and an aging population. Hang On Tight. Pray. is also a love story between a mother and daughter. I always knew I loved my mom, but I realized how deep my love for her was through this experience. I found myself trying to protect her from things I could not always control and striving for perfection, a state of being that is not real or attainable. Eventually, I discovered ways to find peace and joy during one of the toughest times in my life.
What was the most exasperating thing you discovered about the healthcare system while caring for your mother?
I question whether the long-term-care industry is ready to provide adequate care to the number of baby boomers who are living longer with ailments and who will require assistance with their day-to-day needs. I also discovered a disconnect between medical institutions, physicians and nursing staff. I did not always witness a holistic approach to my mom’s care, and was also shocked by the cost of long-term care.
How does the healthcare care system negatively impact Black people in general?
There is a ton of research that supports how Black women are treated in the industry. Our pain is dismissed, we are more likely than white women not to survive childbirth, and we are viewed as superhuman beings that can withstand any challenge, pressure or stress. Conversely, sometimes our state of being is diminished and we are invisible. I cannot help but think that these same unwarranted views of a Black woman’s body also carries over into the care we receive.
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What was one win you had during this process?
The win I had was creating an even closer bond with mom. I had lived in Atlanta for almost 20 years before for her stroke. She lived in Cincinnati, and although we spoke every day, I was not near her touch or embrace. When I finally temporarily moved back to Cincinnati to care for her, it felt good to do things we take for granted, like holding her hand, brushing her hair and helping to get ready for bed at night. I enjoyed being close to her and watching her every move.
What advice do you have for people who are going through this, and also how to manage the emotions of dealing with an ailing parent?
I think it is critical to have open discussions about how our parent will be cared for before the onset of some type of illness. The conversation should not only be with our parents, but with other family members as well. We must be prepared. Also, you must have a community of support. There were several friends that checked on my well-being, brought me food and encouraged me to take a break. I had no question in my mind that they would be there for me and other members of the family. Meditation was helpful for me and I continue to meditate to this day. I learned the value of surrendering to things I could not control and finding joy in the present moments. When Mom smiled, I smiled. I took great delight in seeing her enjoy ice cream as we sat in the park, or watching her chuckle as the ducks stopped the traffic on the street where her assisted living facility was located. The smaller things in life that we at times overlook now mattered more.
What changes do you think can be made in the healthcare system to implement change?
There should be a stronger focus by long-term-care facilities to hire quality healthcare providers and not rely on temporary staff. I also witnessed the inability of several members of the staff to interact effectively with my mother, who had lost her language. They did not always have the emotional intelligence to deal with the anguish and anger she was experiencing because she had lost her independence. There were times when her aide for the day did not know her condition or care protocols to prevent her from falling.
How was writing this book a catharsis for you personally?
I began capturing my thoughts by speaking into my cell phone after leaving Mom in the evenings. There was no one to critique what I felt. Journaling was freeing and helped me to analyze my feelings and discover what I needed to enhance my well-being. Once you write something down, it becomes more real and actionable. Reading what I had written forced me to think about better ways to release the pressure and find peace. Finding peace did not happen overnight. It was years in the making, even four years after Mom transitioned. But I know that exploring my emotions, an act of intelligence, was the best thing I could have ever done for myself.