Caregiver: a person who provides direct care (as for children, elderly people, or the chronically ill)
Void: an empty space; emptiness
My father passed away peacefully in his sleep on January 8th, 2012 as a direct result of Alzheimer’s Disease. For the 6 months leading up to his death, we took him into our home (my hubby, 3 kids, dog and 4 cats) and I became his primary caregiver. We had some help along the way with hired sitters during weekdays and an occasional weekend night, but for the most part it was me. When someone says they are caring for someone 24-7, they often mean it. Dad could not be left alone at all in the house at all or unattended for without checking on for very long. If he was in a room, someone, even one of my kids, was in there with him as much as possible. It was difficult to get him in and out of my car, so running to pick up a kid from an activity or grabbing an ingredient from the grocery store, became a challenge. Thank goodness my fabulous husband, understanding and helpful kids and friends were there to pitch in when a sitter was not available. The household priority became caring for Dad, no regrets, we all changed, became a team and moved into this role with ease.
For those who do not know, Alzheimer’s patients often get all messed up regarding sleep. Sleep pills that would knock an elephant out, did not necessarily make a difference on Dad. Nights became a whole new part of my day. As I adjusted to lack of sleep when the kids were babies, I somehow survived on broken sleep the entire time he was here. My body and brain accommodated and my need to do extra things changed. Things that may have once seemed urgent to do, often dropped low on the priority list. Before he arrived, I worked out 6 days a week, dropped to 4-5 days for 5 months and pretty much stopped exercising the last month. Once someone with a very active social life, my family watched me transform into a homebody, often found on the couch next to dad with a book or watching TV with him. I turned down a gazillion invitations for media events, get-togethers in New Orleans (40 minutes away), parties, lunches etc… but told people to keep inviting me as this was only temporary. From being on the go all the time, I huddled at or close to home with my family and close friends during the past 6 months. I transformed into a different version of me that was created out of the need to take care of others first.
Early in December, Dora, Dad’s full-time weekday sitter passed away unexpectedly. We became extremely close and were happy to see each other each day. If Dad was still asleep, we shared a cup of coffee together and chatted away. After she passed, I caught myself looking for her, preparing extra coffee for her and even called out her name (could have sworn I heard her walk in). Her final gift to me was preparing me for things to come with my father as habits are hard to break and I truly missed her. Since his passing, I have found myself going to check on him often and running errands in a hurry to get back to home-base. Will I go back to my previous lifestyle? Probably not…but a happy medium. Not that I consider that a bad thing at all, we all change throughout our lives, hopefully for the better.
I have done what I hope is most my personal grieving, been to his funeral and have a small ceremony planned with the Hospice Chaplain this weekend for the family. I have shed more tears than I expected to, but am truly at peace that he is at peace. I am back to sleeping at night now (after a few days of Ambien), working out, and have gone out a few times with friends and hubby. Knocking off the to-do list is actually happening, though “important and necessary” has taken on a whole new meaning. Life is a gift, each moment is ours to make the best of it. Time to move forward without Dad here physically and cherish the memories. He would have wanted it that way!
And for the record, writing and sharing this journey through social media has been cathartic. I can’t thank you enough for all the support and kind messages along the way. My goal was to help even just one other person and I think that mission was accomplished. This journey truly helped me to become a better person…THANKS DAD!