Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Caregiver

What happens to people when the burden of care giving for a loved one falls completely on their shoulders? To be honest, it's a slow and painful death for the caregiver. Their world closes in on them, they become antisocial, they are constantly sleep deprived, their decision making is confused, anger sets in, people drop out of their life, their personal hygiene gets thrown by the wayside and substance abuse becomes an avid hobby. This is not their fault. It's just what happens. This is what happened to my Dad. He didn't mean for it to happen. He loves his wife and his intentions were so good. He did the noble thing and decided to take care of her all on his own. For better or for worse. In sickness and in health. It did get worse. Why didn't we step in sooner? We should have, but we didn't. We failed my mother and we failed my father.

Dad was from the generation of drinkers that always had a cocktail hour. It's just how it was in those days. When watching old movies with Bogart, Cagney, Stewart and the rest it is funny to see how the plots always center around having a drink. There is always a crystal decanter of sherry handy or a scene at some romantic night club where cocktails were the center of attention. Unfortunately, Dad's cocktail hour crept up to the morning hour and would sweep itself into the day. This was beginning to consume him all while he was caring for his wheelchair bound wife in a 5 bedroom 3 1/2 bath split level home that was NOT equipped for any handicapped person. Shamefully, I used to blame him. Now I don't. He really did what he could to take care of his wife that he loved so much. It was so painful for him and yet he would never ask for help. He was asking for help in a different way and we were unable to really see that until it got very bad. Now I realize that we were unable to fully comprehend many facts. One of them being that our strong father, the one who always planned and always took care of things, the one who never took risks ( "unnecessary exposure" is what he called it), the one who just finished caring for his mother who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, and the one who would never let anything get out of control ("If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself!"), was very sick and needed our help. Worst of all, the reality was hitting us head on: our parents were aging before our very eyes!

What does a family do when faced with this? There are many options: ignore it, deny it, provide help where you can, intervene. Unfortunately, these options were more like phases for us. It's so odd now when I look back on this nightmare because my siblings and I are so strong-willed, so opinionated, so willing to set things right. We are part of a non-existent club called Do-ers. We jump in and take charge and just DO IT no matter the risk-we get it done! It eats at us when we see something that is not right. Why were we unable to do this thing which was to intervene? We now had two sick parents on our hands. Dad was clearly having a mental breakdown and we were allowing it! What was wrong with us?!

So we intervened. It's too raw and too ugly to write or even speak about for now. The important thing is that we stuck together as a family, we cried, we leaned on each others strengths and we finally did the right thing for our parents that we love so much. It didn't come without a price. We suffered tremendously in the process. Our father, who was too sick in the head to know what he was saying, said some awful things to us but we were taught about unconditional love-tough love and so we persevered.

Now we are licking our wounds and we are healing. Mom and Dad are doing just fine in their hew homes. Amen!

1 comment:

  1. Martha,
    I finally got this, thanks to Trevor... :) I'm touched and eye-ozpened at the same time. Haven't had to deal QUITE with it yet, but I know it's coming (either side of the family). I don't want to get anxious about it, yet it's good to think about things or imagine it because the time will come and I want to know how I've decided to deal with it. :)
    Thanks for sharing!