The most challenging and rewarding experience of my life occurred during the time I served as a caregiver for both my mother and father. The journey began when I accompanied my father to the VA and we learned about his cancer diagnosis. From that moment on, I attempted to assist my mother in caring for him and supporting her through the grieving process as she witnessed her husband of 50 years gradually lose his abilities before ultimately passing away.
In the subsequent year, I became a companion to my mother, accompanying her to appointments and activities. Tragically, two years later I accompanied her to a procedure and we later learned that she too had cancer. I worried about her but also felt some anger that once again I had to watch my parent go on a long cancer journey. I encountered numerous highs and lows, often questioning if I could endure another day. Here are the strategies that helped me persevere:
- Utilizing Resources:
- Taking advantage of the resources at the cancer center where my parents received care became crucial. Conversations with the chaplain and social worker provided a space to express my emotions—fears, anger, doubt and guilt. They emphasized that these feelings did not diminish the love I had for my parents, teaching me to accept all emotions and be kind to myself.
- Accepting Help:
- Initially hesitant to accept help, I realized the importance after a personal incident. Falling down stairs while rushing to get to my mother, I acknowledged the need for assistance. It began with a simple request for an ice pack from my mother’s nurse.
- Embracing the Present:
- Focusing on the present became a paramount coping mechanism. Engaging in conversations with my parents, learning about their past, and even apologizing for past behavior allowed for rich but painful conversations that I now cherish. Laughing at silly movies and eating together took on new significance during that time.
- Giving Time:
- Understanding the difficulty of decisions during chronic or terminal illness, I learned to give my parents the time they needed. Patiently waiting for them to discuss advanced directives and funeral arrangements, I recognized their fear and uncertainty in making these challenging decisions.
- Becoming an advocate for my parents was a daunting task. While not always easy, I found the courage to speak up to medical professionals when necessary, ensuring the best care for my loved ones.
- Time Management:
- Effectively managing my time became essential to balance personal life and caregiving. Scheduling naps during their rest times and letting go of unrealistic expectations allowed me to focus on essential tasks, including self-care to maintain the energy needed for caregiving.
After their deaths I had to repurpose my life. Figure out what I would do with the hours that I used to spend with my parents. And, I embraced the freedom taking trips I would have never considered before learning how short and precious life is. Despite the profound loss, I miss my parents dearly and remain grateful for the wonderful life they provided me, extending their love and support until the very end.