The heart of caregiving
Years before dementia and heart disease eventually extinguished my father’s life, I had to initiate a series of painful and difficult conversations and actions with him.
I had to tell him to stop mowing the lawn or carrying grocery bags. I informed him he could no longer drive. I asked for information about aspects of his life that I did not know, so I could draft his obituary. I accompanied him to a lawyer, to be certain his will was in order. I made certain he had a health care proxy. And I took him to a funeral home, so he could communicate his burial wishes.
When people hear the term “caregiver,” more often than not, it is associated with taking responsibility or having oversight of the day-to-day care of an elderly parent, with the focus on his or her health and wellness. But there is so much more to “giving care” to an elderly parent, including being a gentle, yet persuasive, decision-maker to fully prepare for the time that lies ahead.
Oftentimes, adult children must assume the responsibility in transitioning their parents to a different way of living or guiding them in making end-of-life decisions. It is truly heart-wrenching to tell those who have nurtured and protected us for most of our lives that they can no longer be entrusted with their own care or can no longer live with the independence they once enjoyed. But these are tasks that must be done.
Tia Walker, author of The Inspired Caregiver: Finding Joy While Caring for Those You Love, has said, “To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors.” While I did not feel honored when I took my father’s license and car keys away from him or when I asked which burial urn he preferred, in retrospect, I can see the honor.
Those were some of the last moments in his life when he could communicate with me – before his mind started to deteriorate and his eyes lost their brightness and focus. To this day, I can still remember the warmth of his frail hand as I held it in mine, the trust in me that showed in his eyes and the gentle smile he had on his face. I was giving my father what he had given to me all of my life. I was putting his needs before mine and offering selfless devotion.
For those who are aging, life can be full of indignity, disconnection, disharmony and confusion. To be able to be their anchor and provide them with a safe harbor is the true heart of caring for them.
Amy Dean lives in Central Massachusetts and is the author of several books, including Growing Older, Growing Better: Daily Meditations for Celebrating Aging. Learn more about her at amydeanwriter.com.