At age 81, Ruby Daniel remains the strongest woman her daughter knows.
“Although she looks rather frail and fragile, she can still outwork me,” Tracy Daniel-Hardy says of her mother, who grew up in a farming family. “She moves much more slowly than she used to but still has great endurance.”
Now a primary caregiver for her mom and dad, as well as director of technology for Gulfport School District, Daniel-Hardy is balancing the demands of her own life and career with her parents’ needs. As Mother’s Day approaches, the devoted daughter is especially thankful for Daniel, who she describes as “the best and most loving mother to me and my brother.”
“She is truly a selfless person even now,” Daniel-Hardy says. “She would rather take care of Daddy and us than to take care of herself.”
HER CHILDREN’S BIGGEST CHEERLEADER
One of 16 children from Kokomo, Mississippi, Daniel left for Gulfport (“the big city”) to live with her aunt and uncle after graduating from high school. She was a hairstylist at her sister-in-law’s business, Rosilyn’s Beauty Salon, and later retired from South Mississippi Regional Center, where she worked directly with patients who were intellectually and developmentally disabled or challenged.
As a parent to her and her sibling, Andrea “Tigar” Daniels, Daniel-Hardy says her mom was equal parts firm and fun.
“She was the biggest cheerleader for my brother and me,” Daniel-Hardy says. “She rarely missed attending anything we were involved in. She was going to be there even if Daddy couldn’t make it.”
A true “old school” parent, Daniel accepted nothing less than respect and obedience, according to her daughter. She also ensured her children knew how to cook, clean, mend clothes and “tinker a bit.” Inquisitiveness remains one of her defining traits.
“She likes the challenge of figuring things out,” Daniel-Hardy says. “My brother and I called her MacGyver because like MacGyver of the TV show with the same name, she would tinker to make things work.”
Daniel insisted on eating at least one meal a week together as a family, which usually was a pre-church Sunday breakfast featuring her famous homemade biscuits. Although she was a strict disciplinarian, Daniel had a way of making the most mundane tasks, like hanging clothes on the clothesline, enjoyable — and she was very affectionate.
“She always hugged, kissed, and squeezed us,” Daniel-Hardy says. “She had this unique way of ‘booping’ us with her finger. Even sometimes today, she will kiss her big index finger and ‘boop’ us on our forehead or nose as a love tap.”
Daniel-Hardy also remembers her mom being very busy — cooking often, gardening, hunting for deals at Goodwill and her favorite pawn shops, visiting the sick and elderly, working in the church and helping family and close friends with their children. A stroke in August of 2016 changed her life, and those of her loved ones, dramatically.
“The very active and vibrant mother who did everything for everybody could no longer do as she did prior,” Daniel-Hardy says. “It was very sad to watch her mourn her previous abilities.”
Dementia has rendered Daniel and her husband, Lucious “Butch” Daniel, unable to handle their own medicine, finances, appointments, grocery shopping and other tasks. Daniel-Hardy had to figure out how to manage them both, which she does with the help of her husband and niece, as well as her brother, who comes home regularly from Texas.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A CAREGIVER
Each day on the way to work, Daniel-Hardy stops to give her dad a steroid shot for back inflammation. Sometime between 9-11 a.m., she returns to give her parents their morning medications and often brings or makes them a meal. This stop also involves grabbing trash and sometimes changing bed linens, ironing clothes or preparing her parents for an appointment. In the early evening, her husband handles her dad’s third steroid shot and returns before 10:30 p.m. to administer evening medications.
“During this stop, he may deliver food that I’ve cooked for them or food that he has purchased for them,” Daniel-Hardy says, “and twice a week, it includes gathering up the trash and taking it out to the curb.”
Physically, the pair remain fairly independent, according to their daughter. Daniel still washes, dries, and folds their clothes, although they often don’t make it to the drawers or closets. She loves gardening and still picks flowers and pulls weeds in the yard.
Days of doctor appointments tend to be the toughest for Daniel-Hardy, as a lot of time and effort is required to get her parents up and ready.
“They don’t move quickly, get easily distracted and forget why they are getting up to get dressed,” she says. “Before we disabled Daddy’s truck, he would even leave the house — driving his truck around the neighborhood or to the store.”
Daniel, she adds, is very strong-willed and wants to do things her way — although it may not be the safest or best for the situation. Without saying it, she sometimes sees fit to remind her daughter that “she is the mama.”
“I just smile and shake my head when I hear or feel myself acting like her,” she says. “I even sometimes exclaim that I am my mama’s child.”
LOVE BIG, AND LOVE DEEPLY
More than anything else, Daniel-Hardy says a caregiver will need patience, as well as a good sense of humor, healthy boundaries and sufficient self-care. Her book, “The Adventures of Butch and Ruby: Chronicles of a Caregiver,” details a year in her life. Filled with anecdotes and helpful tips, the book offers hope, healing and resolve to others who are on the same journey
Although the parent-child bond can be tested at times now that the roles have reversed, Daniel-Hardy seems to have inherited her mom’s compassion and heart for service. Daniel taught her to “love big, and love deeply,” she says, and never seemed to be swayed by negativity.
“I am now doing for mama what she did for us,” Daniel-Hardy says. “It has definitely strengthened our relationship.”