Some days, like today, I feel like the world is caving in around me. All of my progress seems to run away and I’m left empty and tired. Sleeping never helps, although it can be a good escape. It’s a good escape if my dreams stray from turning into nightmares that wake me in a cold, abrupt, sweat. Tears wash my mascara onto my acne-prone cheeks as I sit, in the fetal position, in my bathroom floor. I don’t know why, but that’s always seemed like the best place to cry, especially on a pile of dirty towels I’ve let accumulate over the week. Sometimes, I can hear his voice in my head so perfectly that it’s like he’s whispering in my ear; some days, like today, I have to strain to hear, “I love you too, sweetheart.” That’s my only comfort.. that, and remembering his smile. Some days, like today, I feel like he should still be here; I yearn to put my head on his left shoulder and smell his comforting and familiar scent. He’d wrap his arms around me and I’d tell him how much I love him; he’d tell me the same in return. I’d give anything for one more hug, although I know one more would never be enough. Some days, unlike today, I feel like he’s been gone an eternity. Those days are a little easier, though not much. Even on those days, it’s usually easy to hear his voice in my head. Today, I’m sad, empty, broken, and lost. Tomorrow, who knows. I’ll end my day missing you, only to wake up the same; maybe tomorrow will be an easier kind of pain.
As I’m sitting here with my sleeping father, the smells coming out of the kitchen are almost too much for me to bear. This Thanksgiving, it’s just my father, my mother, and myself. Although I’d prefer a full house full of those that are close to my heart, I’m thankful that I can spend this holiday with my father. Does he understand that today is a holiday? I’m not sure. I am sure that he knows how loved he is and that my mom and I are always right here.
My dad woke up in a good mood today, although he isn’t feeling the best (he’s recovering from some sort of respiratory infection). He’s always very cooperative when I give him a bath and change his bedding. If you’ve ever bathed, dressed, and changed linens on someone completely bed ridden, you know how difficult it can be. When he is able to help turn himself, it makes my job a lot easier.
He ate a good breakfast of whole wheat pita, spread with peanut butter, and a side of lightly salted tomatoes. He loves to drink milk or apple juice with his breakfast; unsweetened tea, grape juice, sugar free fruit punch, and the occasional Coke Zero are his favorites throughout the day. On rare days, he is able to give himself something to drink and feed himself small handheld snacks. I know that him being able to do something for himself makes him feel proud, so I always encourage him. If someone is able to do something for themselves, even slowly, let them. Let them hold onto what independence they have.
This Thanksgiving, I will be enjoying my meal standing by my fathers bed while I feed him. I’m thankful that my mom feels up to cooking today, as she’s been recovering from surgery. I’m thankful that I can spend this holiday with my dad, because I don’t know how many more we have together. I’m thankful to have plenty of food to eat (delicious food, at that). I’m also thankful that my mom makes sure to prepare everything vegetarian so I can enjoy it all (except the turkey, cluck cluck). Today, I am just thankful. Although, I wish I had a big loving family, I don’t; I have a small loving one that is unconditional, and they mean the world to me.
I encourage us all to focus on the positives in our life, not only today, but every day. If we focus on the negatives (which can often be overwhelming in my life), then we are only going to bring ourselves down. Find something, or someone, that gives you hope for a better tomorrow and hold onto whatever that may be. Appreciate and love the ones around you, because you never know how much a simple gesture can mean to someone. Reach out to someone and let them know that you care. Smile at a stranger. Take a deep breath and be thankful for everything that you have lost because what’s lost has given you what you have today; what we have today is the only thing that we know for sure, so be grateful. Be grateful for today and hopeful for tomorrow.
I’m going to keep an online journal of my care-giving experience with my father in hopes of helping someone else going through the same experience. I am 24 years old and an only child. My mother and father have been together for over 30 years. My father is now 78 and my mother is 53. I have recently moved back in with them to help my mother with the task of caring for my deteriorating father.
My dad has chronic worsening dementia; he is also handicapped. He spends his days in a hospital bed in the living room. He enjoys watching TV, specifically Blue Bloods, Law & Order: SVU, NCIS, Criminal Minds, Walker Texas Ranger, and In the Heat of the Night. Most days, he sleeps the majority of the time; on his good days, he is awake and bright-eyed and enjoys laughing.
It has been less than a year since my dad was diagnosed with dementia; I’m still trying to understand why and how the disease has progressed so quickly in him. Two years ago, he was the same dad that I’ve always known. Somewhere between then and now, everything has changed. It started with several trips to the ER, numerous trips to his family doctor, and researching things at home- my mom and I knew something was happening, but we had no idea it was dementia. Not long after, he was too much to handle; he became crazed, confused, and violent; he was diagnosed with dementia and was put in the geriatric psych unit at a local hospital. From there, doctors and nurses worked with him during his waking hours, medications got regulated, and physical and mental therapy got started. After two weeks, he was sent to a nursing home for rehabilitation. My mom and I wanted to do everything possible to get him to be able to come back home. A couple months later, we were bringing him home. During his stay in the nursing home, the house was remodeled to be handicap accessible and I moved back in.
My dad has been home for about 3 months. He started off being able to walk (using his walker, of course), go to the bathroom, go to the kitchen table to eat, etc. As of today, he is bed ridden. I change his diapers, bathe him, feed him, and tend to his every need. This disease is the most quickly deteriorating illness that I have ever seen. When I wake up every morning, I’m unsure of how he will be. Sometimes, for days at a time, he can barely keep his eyes open; he will barely eat or drink. Other days, he is awake and happy and has the appetite of a hungry school boy. Communication is a constant issue, but again, some days are better than others.
Being his care-giver has taught me a lot. If you or anyone else you know is in a similar situation, remember that the most important thing is patience. Never yell or raise your voice. Never get in a hurry. Never ask “why.” Never talk quickly. Never ask open-ended or complicated questions. Never argue. Never debate. Do one thing at a time, and if possible, allow your loved one to know what you’re doing. While giving a bath, let him or her know exactly what you’re doing. Make a joke or smile at them so they that what is happening isn’t so bad. Their mood and reaction is based a lot on the emotion that the care-giver is emitting. If the care-giver is upset or tense, that is going to be sensed and transferred. Often, depending on the person being cared for, things can get frustrating; just walk away and take a deep breath. The person with dementia doesn’t want this anymore than anyone else does, so be patient and be kind, as you would with a child.
I plan to update this several times a week. If you or anyone you know is going through this, please, share this with them. It’s nice to know that you aren’t alone and that there are ways to handle going through this. I’ll also gladly talk with anyone that needs help or a shoulder to lean on.
I’ll be updating soon. Thank you.