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An unbreakable bond: Mother/daughter love

Alicia Colombo

By Mary Anna Rodabaugh

Carol McKenna, 74, closes her eyes and crosses her arms across her chest, as her daughter, Diane McKenna, 53, gently cranks the hydraulics of her chair lift. As Carol almost levitates above her wheelchair, in a long-choreographed dance, Diane navigates her mother to the bed and gingerly lowers her to the mattress. Pillows are fluffed, blankets are drawn, and the television remote is placed within Carol’s reach. This mother/daughter “dance” occurs numerous times a day in the close confines of the living room of their South Philadelphia row home.

According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, at least 42% of caregivers are adult children caring for a parent. Diane is no exception, but her circumstances are exceptional. Diane is living with scoliosis, joint pain and the effects of a severe neck injury. She also requires oxygen after extreme exertion.

Despite these physical challenges, Diane celebrates a huge accomplishment each and every day: her continued sobriety. Taking care of her mother is a labor of love, but she is grateful for the task.

“I put my mother through hell when I was younger,” Diane said. “I’d do anything for her today.”

Carol also does her share to support her daughter, by tending to the family finances and reminding Diane to attend all her required doctor’s appointments. The inseparable pair now finishes each other’s sentences and have developed a unique intuition for the other’s needs.

Two years ago, Diane was grocery shopping when she felt a pain in her stomach unlike anything she had experienced before.

“Something told me to go home right away, and I did,” Diane said.

Upon arriving home, Diane found Carol crumpled on the second floor of their home, unable to get up on her own. Thankfully, Carol was not injured, but Diane required a neighbor’s help to relocate her mother to the first floor.

“It was unbelievable,“ Diane said. “I couldn’t believe I could sense something was wrong.”

The pair have been inseparable since Carol moved to South Philly when Diane was a year old. From that point on, they moved together between houses and apartments, always staying south of Washington Avenue. Carol worked two jobs to provide Diane a comfortable life.

As she grew older, Diane discovered drugs and alcohol. It didn’t take long for substances to take over her life. Carol felt helpless, unsure what she could do to help her spiraling daughter.

“Life hit her hard,” Carol said. “All I could do was love her.”

It took many years, many losses and even severe injury to motivate Diane to beat her addictions. She attended rehab and therapy, eventually working her way to a vibrant and sober life. With her demons behind her, Diane vowed to never make her mother worry about her again. She spends her mornings cooking breakfast for her mom before dutifully attending her recovery program.

“I am very happy she is back in my life,” Carol said.

After years of renting, Carol wanted a more permanent home for her and her daughter. “When my father passed away, he left me money. So, I decided at the ripe age of 65 to buy a house,” Carol chuckled. Diane found the perfect house on the 400 block of Daly Street. It was spacious, had plenty of natural light, and best of all – a back deck. Carol and Diane moved in 2013, eager to finally make a permanent home for the family duo.

Unfortunately for the new homeowners, Carol’s health began to decline. Diane refused to leave the house unless absolutely necessary, in case her mother needed something. She slept lightly at night, listening for her mother’s breathing. She continued to cook, clean and maintain the home, while Carol tended to administrative tasks. Then in June 2020, Carol was struck by a sudden gastrointestinal illness and required hospitalization.

“I couldn’t stay with her at first due to the pandemic,” Diane said. “The house was empty and quite frankly, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt lost.”

Carol would recover but required physical therapy and rehabilitation. Her body was weak, and she could no longer walk. She received a hospital bed, wheelchair and hydraulic lift. Diane’s caregiver responsibilities amplified as her mother became dependent on her for everything.

“I would never be able to do what she does for me,” Carol said. “She takes care of me from top to bottom.”

This pair’s daily routine now requires abundant patience, and their home is filled with mobility assistance devices. But one thing remains the same: The unbreakable bond between a mother and her daughter will always last the tests of time.

Philadelphia Corporation for Aging’s Caregiver Support Program provides a wide array of resources for unpaid, primary caregivers, including education and training, financial assistance, referrals and more. For information, call the PCA Helpline at 215-765-9040 or go to

Mary Anna Rodabaugh is a writer, editor and writing coach.

Categories: Caregivers Milestones eNews


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