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.

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