THE SLOW GOODBYE
We can talk about "self-care" until we're blue in the face as young people who may only have ourselves to think about. (Most) of us don't have to be a caregiver for aging parents, younger children to sick loved ones yet. It's an important issue to me, however. Seeing my mother bravely be the sole caregiver for my nana has been so inspiring. She has been vulnerable when need be, and strong when needed, too. She still cares for my father and me while slowly losing her mother to dementia.
My Nana is still alive, but dementia is an illness that slowly, mentally, takes your loved one from you. It has presented my family, and mostly my mother, with many challenges she didn't know she would have to overcome. She has written an anthology of blogs to help her through this time, and has published them into a book!
I let my mom share an excerpt of her blog on mine this week. The e-book and paperback are available on Amazon for $5, and all proceeds will go to the Alzheimer's Association. If this is an important topic to you, read below and check out the book here.
From Daddy’s Girl to Mom’s Caretaker
When I was younger, I was Daddy’s girl. My dad could not start his car without me running out to ask him where he was going, and if I could come. I went to every softball game that he played in, and he was at every one of my softball, basketball and hockey games. He was my biggest cheerleader. He taught me how to drive, he called the dean of students when I was caught with beer at college, and even payed the school for ice cream “we” stole from the dining hall. I called him every day. When he was struck with cancer in January 1994, I drove him to the VA in Boston, and went to see him every day until he passed that June. He was the first man I truly loved.
On that day, when my world came crashing down, I became my mother’s caregiver and have been since. He was only 64 at the time, and she did not have dementia yet. My Dad, however, did everything for her. She was lost, and did not know where to turn. At that point in my life, I was only married for 9 years. We had just bought our first home, and were going through some infertility issues. I was not ready to become my mother’s caretaker. I just wanted to make her feel safe and secure. One night, my Dad came to me in a dream, and very gently asked me to take care of my Mom. He said that she needed my loving care. He said that he was very proud of me and he knew I could do it. As a daughter that always did what my Dad wanted me to do, and did not want to disappoint him, I then became the best caregiver my mother could have ever wanted.
In the beginning, it only entailed having a joint checking account and making sure she was okay. A year later, we had our first and only child. When she was born, she had my Dad’s smile, and I know his spirit lives in her. We baptized her in the same church that we had my Dad’s last goodbye in, it was a circle of life. My mom was serving as my mom, but she also she helped with our child. We went everywhere together, the three of us. My mom was a very engaged grandmother. I fondly remember her going to grandparent’s day at my daughter’s school.
As the years passed, I noticed that my mom would forget more and more. This was the start of the dementia. It got worse after she had kidney failure. At that point, I was doing more for her: setting up home care, meeting with doctors, explaining to her what was going with her health issues. I then became her full time caretaker.
Now, not only was I her caretaker, I was also her health proxy, making all the hard choices for her. I took on this role with all the love and gentleness that both my Dad and Mom showed me when I was growing up. Being a caretaker is hard work and can be very stressful. The fact that I know that my Mom is safe and secure, however, and that I am making all the right choices for her, is very rewarding as a daughter.
My advice? Be prepared to make those hard choices and to research everything when it comes to health care and financial options. Most importantly, find a support system in either family, friends, support groups or all three. Always remember - you are not alone in this role. As my Dad asked me to do so many years ago, I am still my mom's caretaker and her biggest supporter. I know my Dad is proud of me and is guiding me through the rough waters of taking care of my Mom.
This is an excerpt from The Long Goodbye by Karen Vergakes. You can buy this book here and support the Alzheimer's Association.