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Learning How To Be A Caregiver.. /
Learning How To Be A Caregiver
By Jennifer Kay
It was a beautiful day in March
1995, when my mother and father gathered their family
around and my father told us, in his usual intellectual
matter-of-fact way, he was going to die.
He talked of living wills, powers of attorney, who would
do what and when. How things would be. He cried, and we
cried. He talked to all of his grandchildren
individually. We spent the day, each of us talking with
Dad, alone and together, each of us crying. My father
had recurrent 4th stage melanoma. Untreatable.
Incurable. His expected life span was 5-6 months.
My father was the one who took care of our family. He
had been father, friend, mentor, colleague, business
associate, therapist, home repair advisor, ad infinitum,
to our entire family. Who would take care of me when he
was gone? We were losing a true caregiver.
Knowledge did not prepare us, nor could it comfort us.
And there was no time for us to get used to the idea, as
if that would ever be possible. Throughout my fatherís
valiant attempts at treatment (he endured them all
without complaint, knowing they might buy an extra few
weeks) he still took care of us all. He stayed in
charge. He made all of the necessary appointments and
travel arrangements and comforted us about our grief.
Even in the last few days of his life, when he could
barely speak, he knew my sadness and would pat my check
when I cried.
My fatherís illness was not drawn out for years. It was
as if he was fine, and then he wasnít, and then he was
gone. I wouldnít be his Caregiver in his long twilight
years; repaying him for all the times he was there for
me. I began to wonder if I could do the job right, if I
had the ability, the skills to take care of others the
way my father so effortlessly took care of us.
As the cancer wore him down, I realized that he had long
ago given me his wonderful life skills to connect with.
He taught me to love and have strong passionate
convictions. He taught me how to care for myself: to
rest when weary, to take a break when needed. He taught
me to sit close and be quiet and how to find the peace
of having someone you love nearby. He taught me to be
realistic about death and acknowledge its presence. My
father gave me the skills I needed to be there for him,
and for my mother, the last week of his life. Long
before we ever knew it would be necessary, he taught me
how to help him die at home. Without ever noticing the
lessons, I had learned how to be a Caregiver.