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Honoring Caregivers

Here’s a caregiving thing:

It is very much the saddest and most heartbreaking period of my life. And yet also the most sacred. That’s the thing about being a caregiver. “Rollercoaster” isn’t the right word because extreme feelings are happening all at the same time. And nothing prepares you for it.

Studies show that caregiving has a huge impact on everyone from individual families to our economy and society in general, since the number of people serving is skyrocketing. An estimated 40-million plus adults fall into the category, having provided unpaid care for an extended period to a child or adult in the past year. Of course there’s a National Caregivers Day – it’s later this month – and that’s what made us think of it, honestly. Initially it evoked dear memories.

I was with my mom to help take care of my dad when his dementia progressed. He had Lewy Bodies Dementia, which in our case was well treated until his final six months. He knew us up to the very end, was sweet as can be – and never became belligerent or nasty as often happens with some dementias. We were lucky in that way. Many of those months were even funny and warm and in their own way, delightful.

Like when he played cards. Suddenly, he wanted to play gin rummy all day long. That meant he’d stick a “meld” under his leg to save for his ultimate victory and then he’d forget about it. By the time he triumphantly shouted “GIN” there were too many cards, scattered everywhere, in nowhere near the required form. Didn’t matter – it went on the score sheet as a win and you’d have thought he was the king of Las Vegas.

Or when he’d declare that his used breakfast dishes weren’t thaaaat dirty, so he’d rinse them and put them back in the cabinet. My mom and I would make big eyes at each other and keep track of this horror in hygiene. Not a chance those offending pieces would skip a run thru the dishwasher.

My favorite time was when the grandkids would all come around and hang out with him.  Once he was bed-bound, he’d tell his favorite stories over and over and substitute one punch line for another in such a nonsensical way that everyone cracked up anyway. Then he’d ask, “When’s the pizza coming?” so often that we’d call one in just to make it happen. What the heck.

Those are the times I want to remember. There were others – and they were agonizing. I don’t want them to be top of mind. No one would.

My stint as a caregiver was brief – about six months. We were fortunate, but we were robbed of him nonetheless. So my hope for all caregivers is the gift of selective memory. And a thoughtful call or food delivery or card or someone’s pleasant loving thoughts – communicated in a warm sincere way – on February 16th…and all the days.

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