by Donna Scrafano
For those of us who lived the life of a true caregiver, regardless of the time invested, we know just how consuming the tasks involved are. Our purpose, our investment, far exceeds our professional commitment. At least it did for me.
My caregiving journey led to early retirement. And to this day, I’m thankful to have been afforded that unplanned opportunity. Although I retired at the age of sixty-four, I spent every waking moment either performing tasks or lying in bed worrying about how to provide the best care.
And then it happened. I no longer was a caregiver. My father’s journey on this earth ended. One year following his leave-taking, I found myself thinking, “Now what?” Throughout that year I increased my participation in self-care activities (i.e., exercising, eating well, therapy, vacationing, etc.) and continue to do so today. Yet I felt there was a void. When I think of all the wonderful things that took place over that year—my one granddaughter was married, and two great-grandbabies were born (two of those events happened during the pandemic)—I found myself confused. How could I feel so empty while such joyful events were happening,? And it was not related to my father’s sudden absence. It was more about me.
I had thought that I was feeling this way because I no longer had a purpose. I had ceased to be a caregiver. After all, I had provided care to my parents in one way or another for thirteen years. I was still a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Those roles have great meaning and wonderful purpose to me. I had never felt this void when my children left home. Honestly, I never experienced the “empty nest syndrome.” On the contrary, I returned to school for my master’s degree and continued in the love-of-my-life profession: victim’s services. When my professional path took me elsewhere, although I was sorry to leave victim’s services, I continued feeling that I had a purpose. So, if my current feeling is not the lack of purpose, WTF is it? What is this void I’m struggling with?
While soul-searching to find this “purpose” I had thought I lost, I returned to work part-time. But then I was reminded of how incompetent and lazy some employees can be and how much such behavior frustrated me. I couldn’t tolerate it back in the day, let alone now. So that new purpose lasted about two months. I had to accept the fact that I was really retired and needed to embrace every wonderful moment. No void there.
I typically think of a title for an article and then begin to write it. This article was to be “Purpose” or “Life’s Purpose After Caregiving” or “When the Caregiving Ends.” However, it was not until I began writing that I discovered the void was not about not having a purpose. It is about not being a daughter to anyone on this earth anymore. Let the tears begin.
I continue to have the roles I’ve had for many years or all of my life: woman, heterosexual, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, aunt, cousin, niece, sister-in-law, friend, retired professional, writer, advocate, Democrat, liberal, feminist. However, the one role I am missing that had been with me from birth is daughter. And there it is. The void, the missing piece. The role of daughter.
Being the daughter of Edward and Elizabeth Scrafano was the energy that helped to mold me into the person I am today. What I learned most in my daughter role was the importance of family. I believe that by transferring this energy to the following generations, this legacy of love to my family will indeed fill that void.
Photo credit by Ukraine artist Oksiphotography “Portrait of Alona.” You can buy her artwork at https://www.deviantart.com/oksiphotography
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 seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, writing for Silver Sage, spending time with friends and family. Her last full-time position was providing care to her father. Since that has ended, Donna is taking the time to invest in her own self care and interests.