Life After Caregiving
There is life after caregiving. As much as we love those who are close to us and want to make them as comfortable as possible during the last years of their lives, once they've moved on, we need to grieve, let go, and reenter our lives.
I spent more than seven years caring for my elderly parents as POA and health care proxy, and it took me more than a year to recover physically from the experience and begin to reclaim myself and my life. My memoir, The Box of Daughter, tells the story of my difficult experience as caregiver for my parents, and my journey to unearth my authentic self after they passed away.
Being a caregiver in a dysfunctional family takes a huge toll on a person's emotional and mental well-being, and sometimes it takes a physical toll on the caregiver as well. It's vital to figure out how to take care of yourself when you're caregiving, especially if the person(s) you're caregiving for are mistreating, criticizing, or otherwise abusing you.
When you're doing your best to take care of someone, and they're putting you down in some way, they are emotionally abusing you, and if you don't get support, your confidence and self-esteem will probably plummet, and your recovery period will be that much longer.
After my father passed away in 2008, I wrote a short story about my last visit with him in the nursing home where he lived, just before he went into hospice care. It's called The Last Visit, and it won the Honorable Mention Award in the 2011 Warren Adler Short Story Contest.
Here's the opening of the story.
From The Last Visit:
I pull slowly into a parking spot at the Columbia Home and turn off the engine. The mingled smell of horseflesh and exhaust from the trailer I couldn't pass for twenty miles on the two-lane road still lingers in the rental car. My muscles are grumping from the heavy heat and the long flight, and I lean my head back against the headrest, giving in to a short sigh of resignation. I hadnít wanted to come, but my need to comfort had always been stronger than my desire to keep myself safe.
I shoot off a small prayer to the universe that things will go well and that this time Iíll finally be able to make some kind of peace with the situation. I haul myself out of the car, the hot metal searing my fingers as I slam the door, and head toward the entrance. Turning my gaze from the empty fountain and wilted flowers, I hurry up the walk and buzz the door to get in.
My relationship with my father had always been difficult. An explorer from birth, my innate need to examine, investigate, and discover the world around me had continually bumped up against his devout Protestant rigidity and his unwavering belief that there was only one way to live life: his way.
Without my consent, my mind spews images from my childhood: my father teaching me to hammer and saw, his gentle voice encouraging me to take my time; stumbling into my brotherís room and seeing him lying face-down on his bed, silent and still, as my father raises the belt above him; my father asking in the daily blessing of food that our home be a happy one. The love and fear clash and mingle in my heart, and, with nerves tingling, I remind myself that at 92, my father is no longer a real threat to me....
Read the full story.