Let’s start with the hurt.
A month after my dad’s death, I am still hurting. I have been hurt deeply by people I thought I could trust, including members of my own family, but also former friends, even people who were paid tens of thousands of dollars to care for my dad.
I’m angry too. I do sometimes break down and sob that dad is gone – mostly because he lived life in squalor to leave something for his children, and also because nobody ever really gave him an ounce of respect. But I have been put through such unthinkable hell that I have been strengthened by it
So many tears already have been shed, not just for my dad, but also for myself.
There were tears of sadness while watching dad suffer. There were tears of fear and self-pity before getting sober.
And there were tears brought on by pain and suffering while being abused mentally and physically at the hands of others, even after getting sober, and finding God, and simply trying to care for my dad.
But there also have been tears of joy and gratitude for my sobriety, and for being able to make a living again doing what I enjoy.
The last doctor who cared for my dad said, “The caregiver always gets screwed.” All caregivers know that to be true, especially when caring for a loved one with dementia.
In the end, I don’t feel screwed, really. But I’m deeply, deeply hurt and don’t know that I ever will reconcile with those who have hurt me. I know I have to forgive. But to forgive doesn’t have to mean to allow people who severely hurt you back into your life.
For years while I tried to care for dad, I didn’t take care of myself. Now that has changed. I am number one in my life.
When I moved back from Los Angeles in 2002, my brother took my dad out of assisted living (the most bargain-basement assisted living facility in town) and I began to care for him. And I did that. In fact, I cared for my dad as best I could up until the day he died. But in 2013, I could no longer give dad the type of care he needed, at least not directly, and I selected what I thought was the most beautiful memory care facility in our area.
It was beautiful. But that’s not what sick people need. They need quality care.
Read More: My dad’s battle with FTD, a rare brain disease
Eventually, the memory care facility changed hands, had a massive purge of excellent employees, and ultimately, the facility trespassed me. This happened after months and months of my complaining about finding dad in dirty diapers, after being disrespected, yelled at and laughed at by the employees, who would fight amongst themselves, play on their phones, or eat candy while residents at times were sprawled out on the floor.
Ultimately, three weeks before I was trespassed, dad was found in a pool of blood in his room in the early morning hours. I got a call (my brother was POA but seldom could be reached…dedicated employees regularly called me and kept me apprised of what was going on) and they asked what to do. I said “Take him to the emergency room!”
There, my dad, speaking through tears, claimed he was struck by someone at the facility. He said it in front of the doctor, the hospice social worker and myself.
You can read what happened the day I was banned from ever seeing my dad again by clicking here.
Despite what that horrible, horrible place did to me — and I haven’t even shared the half of what happened, or what happened after that — I know that I served my dad as dutifully as any good soon could.
The people who matter know it. My dad knew it. And God knows it. I try to walk with God by my side every day. I pray a lot.
I have to remember that people motivated to do evil deeds and/or behave dishonesty are hurting too. Money, power, and addiction all are very strong motivators that can allow people to lose sense of who they really are.
When I remember that, and when I remember that I’ve been there myself in the past, it gets a little easier to forgive.
I’m going to have to forgive to be able to experience joy again and to be able to trust and love again.
Gratitude, gratitude: Where do I begin?
Today, I honestly can say when I wake each day, I seriously give my all to being a better person than I was the day before. I now have 18 months of sobriety under my belt.
God is how I have stayed sober. He is. When the chips are down, the number one thing I am grateful for is my sobriety.
Two, I am grateful for my writing abilities. Again, God gets credit for that. I have been able to not only express my feelings about being dad’s caregiver and the struggles that came with it (as I’m doing here), but also about getting sober. I have been able to write news reports about the issues I face too, namely addiction/recovery and caregiving/elder advocacy. I hate to beat a dead horse, but interviewing U.S. Secretary of Aging Kathy Greenlee about elder abuse, and Joan Lunden, spokeswoman for A Place for Mom, are major career highlights. I exposed how much of corporate America is falling flat on its face in terms of supporting caregivers, and I reported how the people who care for our parents live in poverty.
So I am grateful for my writing and for all of my clients who give me a platform to expose shortcomings in elder care, the blessing of recovery from alcoholism and addiction, and the remarkable strides being made in HIV scientific research (even though stigma, sadly, is alive and well).
And I’m grateful for the time I had with dad in the memory care facility prior to the bizarre, abrupt, and from what I’ve been able to gather, unjust ousting of the previous executive director, and subsequent takeover by a gigantic chain of elder care facilities. There were some good times under the previous ownership. You can read about the good times under the previous ownership by clicking here.
I am grateful for all of the good people in my life who encourage me to stay positive, and there are many.
I am grateful for the good people who cared for my dad, especially those at St. Anthony’s, the nursing home where dad spent the final month of his life, and where we were reunited.
I am grateful for my lawyer, and for my psychologist. I am grateful for my pastor, even though I do not attend church regularly because for now I cherish my privacy.
Self-care and GuruNanda Ultrasonic Diffuser
I have learned not to skimp on self-care. It is pounded into the heads of caregivers, but so often we don’t listen. You just have to take care of yourself.
For me, that means seeing a psychologist every week, even though I have to pay for it out of my own pocket (my insurance I bought off the exchange only paid for three visits). She. Is. Awesome.
I have learned to take time out to walk and to exercise, and even to force myself to walk when I don’t feel like it. Because I know that physical exertion will make me feel better, and it always does.
I’ve learned to pamper myself with good food. And candles.
I’ve become a total candle connoisseur. I’ve learned that soy candles are better than paraffin candles because they don’t put off nasty fumes. They also don’t leave that ugly charring around the edge of the candle container. You know that can’t be good.
I recently was sent a GuruNanda Ultrasonic Diffuser. You just add a tiny amount of water and mix in fragrant oils and it shoots a glorious-smelling mist into the air. It comes with lavender (known for its relaxing, soothing qualities) and peppermint (to get you off the couch when you don’t feel like moving).
The GuruNanda “Aroma 360” diffuser makes a wonderful holiday gift for the caregiver in your life. You can find them for $19.99 at any WalMart.
This column brought to you by the GuruNanda “Aroma 360” Ultrasonic Diffuser.
I always wanted to be a talk show host. They always have a product to plug.
I’m grateful for my sense of humor too. I get it from my dad. But the Aroma 360 really is cool.
I’m going to be OK.