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…A Daughter’s Journey of Duty and Honor

By Dr. Anita Lewis- Sewell, MD
Special to The Truth

“This is a love story,” Cynthia J. Lewis-Hickman, PhD, recounts in the preface of her first published book, which is dedicated to her “amazing husband” for his love and support. 

From the Lens of Daughter, Nurse, and Caregiver: A Daughter’s Journey of Duty and Honor denotes the special perspective from which this 10-chapter, 82- page treatise is written. In it Dr. Lewis-Hickman shares personal, often painful and poignant insights gained over the 20 years that she, with the invaluable support of her husband, was primary caregiver for her mother, Shibbolethia B. Lewis. 

Shibbolethia B. Lewis

 She relays an intensely personal account of love, devotion, and loss while exploring the complexities encountered during her journey as caregiver for her “mommy”. The “lived” or life lessons she learned from this experience are explored in breadth, depth, and intricacy.

The Hickmans invited Lewis to live with them after her retirement from the Toledo Public School (TPS) system. She had lived most of her adult life Toledo, OH, where she had, raised four daughters, buried her husband, and helped care for grandchildren.

She had helped educated students of all ages for over 26 years. She was actively involved in Phillips Temple C.M.E Church, Church Women United, and many other community organizations. As a woman of faith, she loved and trusted God and loved her family. So after much difficult reflection, Lewis accepted that invitation.

In 1997 at the age of 77, she left behind family and old friends to go and start a new chapter of life in Texas with her daughter, Cynthia, and son-in-law, Bernis (B.H.) Hickman.

Chapter six, “A Sign of What’s To Come,” includes a speech her mother delivered on September 30, 1990 at the Annual Missional Day at Friendship Baptist Church (formerly on Nebraska Ave. in Toledo, OH) where Rev. Duane Tisdale was then pastor. It contains content with captivating implications which you may find particularly intriguing and are encouraged to read.

Lewis was an active, vibrant, intelligent, independent, and functional woman who could cook, clean house, and drive. She embraced her new life in Missouri City, Texas. She started attending the local Willowridge Baptist Church, and relished participation in the life of the Fort Bend Senior Center where she even found a “boyfriend, Mr. Henry,” on her relocation to Texas.

The medical problems she had were easily managed at that point. However, seasons change.  Like the pages of a book which unfold and disclose the plot inherent, Lewis gradually began to experience significant health-related changes over the ensuing years, Lewis-Hickman explains. Her book describes evolving health problems from multiple strokes and diabetes, to heart and joint problems, which result in her mother eventually becoming bedridden, unable to perform the most basic activities of life.

 But the author had already resolved to care for her mother at home, knowing full well the health risks involved in (some) long-term care facilities from falls, infections, and bedsores. Such risks are multiplied for patients with cognitive, speech and mobility limitations, she considered.

Circumstances leading to an ultimate role reversal wherein Lewis-Hickman became a virtual surrogate parent for her mother developed in ways she could have speculated or expected, based on her years of nursing experience, but had never actually envisioned happening.

The role and responsibility of caregiver for chronically ill, cognitively impaired, physically disabled, or otherwise fragile family members and loved ones is fraught with challenges that deserve our considerable attention and understanding. Her insights linked with scholarly academic contributions in this book adds to this endeavor, and makes this text well-worth reading.

With a spirit of excellence and doing all things as unto God, Lewis-Hickman’s mission and goal became to provide a rich and full quality of life for her mother, despite the inevitable ravages of ill-health, immobility, and time.  The author discusses the joys, routines, duties, aggravations, stressors, and sorrows of the progressively co-dependent relationship (of necessity) unique to caregivers.

She helps us understand the concept of “caregiver burnout” (sometimes called caregiver syndrome) and offers examples from personally trying times.

Burnout is multifaceted. It can mimic or result in post-traumatic stress disorder (P.T.S.D.).  Fueled by sleepless nights, it can manifest in anxiety, irritability, depression, fatigue, and even further endanger the health of caregivers.  Lewis-Hickman presents the experience of burnout with compelling and captivating honesty, noting the sense of loneliness or isolation (despite efforts of family and friends to assist); along with feelings of anger, loss of freedom, and financial challenges.

In chapter seven, Lewis-Hickman discusses the need of caregivers to have respite; and the concomitant conundrum that make respite difficult for caregivers who are overly enmeshed in their roles.

Most importantly, Lewis-Hickman affirms that her faith in God provided the strength and resilience she needed to accomplish the Biblical commandment to “Honor… Thy Mother,” found in Exodus 20:12.  

Like Lewis-Hickman, many others have accepted the awesome, often overwhelming, role as caregivers for parents, spouses, or others they love.

Her particular advice for caregivers is presented in chapter ten of this very readable and touching treatise. By sharing her own journey, Lewis-Hickman expresses the hope to educate, inform, and encourage caregivers, their families, and the greater community (laypersons, medical, and related professionals). Her topic is timely in light of America’s aging population, and the challenges this is expected to present for future generations.

Born on August 13, 1920, Lewis lived for 97 years and seven days. Chapter 8 of this work, titled “Hospice, Heaven, and Homegoing,” tells about the final hours of her life and describes the circumstances of her death, for which Lewis-Hickman and her sister, Diana L. Hughes, were present. Fittingly, somehow, she died early on a Sunday morning, the Lord’s Day of rest.

Family and friends grieved the death of Lewis.  That grief was significantly more profound for Lewis-Hickman, having been so close to her mother for so long.  Her mother trusted, depended, and relied on her. Their lives had become intricately entwined far beyond typical mother-daughter relationships.  Lewis-Hickman explained how writing this book helped her to find solace and resolution of her grief.

For years, the lion’s share of Lewis-Hickman’s life had involved meeting the needs of her mother. Writing this book helped her come to terms with the loss of her mother and to slowly begin to repair the tremendous breach or vacuum in her life that resulted after her mother’s death.

Lewis’s first-born daughter, Brenda L. Lewis (a nurse educator like her sister Lewis-Hickman) frequently avowed that “momma wouldn’t have lived this long without Cynthia!”  

These words of praise were well-deserved. How can I make that statement? Quite easily. I was privileged to witness this bitter-sweet love story unfold. I have the highest regard for the loving, faithful, and devoted care my sister, Cynthia J. Lewis-Hickman, and her husband, Bernis E. Hickman provided for our mother.



Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 09/06/19 00:48:15 -0400.

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