(Editor’s Note: We add Linda, who cares for her dad, to our blogging team today. You can connect with her on her profile page: @goinhome.)
I woke up the other morning 490 miles from home and realized that a transition had taken place. This transition wasn’t about traveling. It was a realization that had sunk in sometime during my sleep that I had, without conscious awareness, become a caregiver to my father. While I try to look at any situation with an attitude of gratitude, this new understanding brought an icy fear to my gut, one that coffee couldn’t warm.
When I awoke that morning, I was in my father’s house. I’m here to help him with Mom’s gardens and with downsizing the household. Mom died in this home four months ago from cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer), eighteen months after she was first diagnosed. After Mom died, I stayed with dad for two more months to help him get papers in order and to help him readjust to a life without his wife. That brought my last caregiving stay to a total of eight months, and I was ready to go home to my husband, my daughter, and my friends.
After two months at home I knew I had to return to my parents’ house, because mom’s flower gardens were a mess. She was a Master Gardener, but she didn’t have the energy during the last two years of her life to touch her beds. And, she wouldn’t let us touch them — she consider those gardens as sacred grounds. I just finished separating the plants in most of those gardens, and the house is the next target. I doubt I’ll get everything done during this visit, however; so, I’m planning to return with my husband over the holidays to take care of unfinished business.
It was those plans, perhaps, that forced the realization to sink in that I had become my father’s caregiver. Dad is 84-years-young, and he’s been active his entire life. But, he also had his first of three heart attacks at age 30, and he now hosts a defibrillator. Plus, during February this year, just four months before Mom’s death, a urologist diagnosed him with bladder cancer. Although the treatments he went through seemed to work and the urologist thinks he’s doing fine, he still suffers with some complications.
Let’s add hard-of-hearing, despite hearing aids, some trouble with short-term memory, and a loss of energy. He usually mows the yard, but last week his blood pressure shot up while he was on the riding lawn mower. It was time to schedule someone else to mow the lawn, and he had a difficult time accepting this loss of independence. The last paint stroke in this picture is that he prefers to live alone, and he doesn’t want to leave the house.
It wasn’t easy being a caregiver for Mom, but at least I knew what to expect. She had doctor appointments, chemotherapy, emergencies, infections — events that we became adjusted to over time. Dad? Well, he’s unpredictable, and it’s only because I don’t know what to expect. Plus, I don’t know what to do, especially since he doesn’t need me here all the time, and I will conduct most of my caregiving from a distance.
This is a new role. A new adventure, perhaps. Definitely a new journey.