by Donna Scrafano
Anyone who has ever dedicated their time on a 24/7 basis to care for a loved one knows the amount of freedom that they must sacrifice. After caring for my elderly father for four-plus years, he passed away this summer at the age of 90. After that, I experienced a great sense of relief. Not just that his suffering had ended, but that my freedom had returned—freedom to come and go as I please, to make plans with friends and family, all without having to plan for the care for my father. Please note, I am 100-percent grateful that I did what I needed to do and that I made it through. However, when the tasks ended, so did my imprisonment. That’s exactly what it felt like most days, and I’m not one bit ashamed to admit it. If other caregivers are honest, they, too, would admit feeling the same way, I’m sure.
While hosting the celebration of my father’s life following his funeral, I had conversations with my cousins, who had also cared for their parents. One cousin advised, “I didn’t miss my mother till about a year after she was gone.” And this cousin had a very close relationship with her mother. And it’s true—the feeling of relief at not having to perform the many, many daunting tasks of caregiving supersedes the missing of our loved one, at least for a while.
My experience was not only feeling relief at the lifting of the responsibility of caregiving, but even more so the wonderful sense of freedom that came along with not having to perform those tasks day in and day out. It was and still is an adjustment. For the first four weeks following my father’s death, when I was out and about, an anxious thought that “I need to get home” would often brush over my entire body. But oh the relief of the realization that I actually didn’t need to rush home! A month or so after his funeral, I began to fill the days with luncheon dates with friends, concerts, gatherings, more time with the grandchildren, more time walking, swimming, and of course relaxing. I was also offered a position as a coalitions director for two days a week. Perfect.
I was now also relieved of having to deal with my family’s dysfunction issues. Quite frankly, this chore was the most difficult part of caregiving, more difficult than anything I had to do for my father. Major relief. I facilitate a caregiver support group, and every member has shared similar stories. A topic for another article. Again, thanks Pop!
Now, almost two months after my father’s passing, the sadness that was deep within me, temporarily held back by the enjoyment of my new freedom, I suppose, has finally reared its sorrowful head. My father’s presence is missing—in our house, on the patio, in my car, at family functions, etc. Now the grieving has begun. Strange as it may sound, I didn’t expect to grieve. I guess because I had grieved the loss of my father, as I had known him, for the last two years leading up to his final days. Silly me.
What I have discovered is that this “new-found freedom” also includes the freedom to cry, to become emotional, to let my guard down, to feel and embrace all the emotions repressed for the past four years, and to have a meltdown if I damn well please—the freedom to process all the experiences, the trauma ,and the extraordinary challenges attached to nothing less than excellent caregiving. And finally, the freedom to walk away knowing that my job is done and was done very well.
Photos courtesy of Istockphoto.com
Donna began her journey in Human Services in 1983. During the next 35 years she held various positions and formally retired in 2018. She writes on an array of social issues. Donna’s relaxation time includes walking her Lab, Roxy, having fun with her six grandchildren, writing for Silver Sage, spending time with friends, and applying self-care. Her current full-time position is care-taking her 90+ year-old father.