by Heather Lee Leap
“So, Dad, you need to live for like another 20-30 years, just as you are now and then just drop dead, because we don’t want to do this more than once.” I smiled as I said this to my father, who sat at the kitchen table in our cabin in Maine.
He gave a gruff chuckle, glanced at the floor, at his coffee cup, and back at me, “Yeah, your brothers said the same thing,” he said.
By “this,” I meant caring for my mom who was in a steep decline, both physically and cognitively. It would be several months before we understood she has Alzheimer’s.
My parents have been divorced for many more years than they were together, and yet my father has had a significant influence on my mother’s care this past year, though he’s unaware of it. I only realized it myself a few weeks ago.
My father is a caregiver.
He’s been a caregiver for more than twenty years, but I doubt he’s ever used the word. Like many people who provide support for a family member, he doesn’t consider himself a caregiver. He’s just doing what he feels he must. And he has unknowingly taught me, by his example.
My grandfather suffered from Parkinson’s disease, and my dad made the forty-five minute drive nearly every week to shovels walks, trim hedges, do household repairs and help his father and stepmother complete errands. Following Grandpa’s death nearly twenty years ago, my dad continued those weekly visits to check on his stepmother and provide the same type of assistance.
As her health and cognition have declined, he’s made emergency trips to the hospital, tracked down all her accounts, struggled to get power of attorney so that he can pay her bills. He’s seen her through the transfer from hospital, to nursing facility, to a long-term care facility near his home. He stops in whenever he drives by – several times a week.
My mom, at 66, and my dad’s stepmother, in her 90’s, have similar symptoms. Birthday cards and other mail are opened and then stuffed under cushions, in drawers and behind shelves. Neither of them knows what day it is or what time of day. They are not altogether sure where they are. Sometimes they wonder why people who have died, or live across the country do not visit, and they mistake new acquaintances for old friends, which is a comfort to them.
Now when Dad and I talk on the phone, it’s not all about the grandkids. We talk about bureaucracy, paperwork and what it’s like to do the right thing, yet still feel we’re sneaking around behind the backs of our charges with dementia.
I hear regret in my dad’s voice when I speak to him. He understands what I am going through, and wishes that I were not.
Every year at Father’s Day, I have more reasons to appreciate my dad.
Real Women Speak, shares the voices of Oregon women who are struggling, soaring, muddling through and motivated to move forward.
Inspired by Decide.Create.Share, this blog chronicles stories from lighthearted happenings to questions of fortitude. From life-altering changes to simple anecdotes, our shared narratives serve to inspire, guide, and connect us.
Every woman has a voice. AARP Oregon seeks to amplify them.
About our lead blogger: Hello, my name is Heather Lee Leap. My experience as a wife, mother, and caregiver of a family member with Alzheimer’s continues to influence my work as a freelance writer. With a passion for health, wellness, and the myriad issues confronting families today, I’m pleased to join AARP Oregon and Real Women Speak to help end the silence that can isolate us as we navigate life’s challenges. – See more at: http://states.aarp.org/realwomenspeak-mom-in-the-middle/#sthash.lwDN0THy.dpuf