by Donna L. Scrafano
Fade v. itr. 1. To lose brightness, loudness, or brilliance gradually: dim. 2. To lose freshness: wither. 3. To lose vitality or strength: wane. 4. To disappear gradually: vanish.
This definition of fade is found in the Webster II New Riverside University Dictionary. It is a term I have come to use quite often lately to describe my elderly father. Those of us who are sole caregivers, either for an elderly family member or a family member who resides with us, can relate only too well to this description.
Believe it or not, I began using the word fading to describe my father’s condition after watching a children’s movie, the 2017 Disney film Coco. It has quite a powerful message about family and the process of dying. In any event, watching this fading process day in and day out is extremely sad. What I once thought were the most difficult tasks in caregiving are currently the least difficult. There may be approximately 100-plus responsibilities attached to my caregiving role. There are the doctor appointments, the medication processes, the sick days, the hygiene tasks, the domestic tasks (cleaning, cooking, outdoor chores, laundry), and the constant reminders one needs when dementia has set in. Although these and other tasks can be quite daunting, they’re no comparison to watching the life seeping out of your loved-one’s body, mind, and soul. You feel helpless and very sad. Alone.
When I began providing care for my father, he was driving, holding conversations, watching sports, reading the newspaper, going to church, and had a positive outlook about life. However, he was not paying attention to his health. Three months into my caregiving, he had congestive heart failure, and treating that exposed additional health issues. As a result, he began to lose his independence—he could no longer do the things he once could. First, my father had to stop driving. For two years he attended my grandson’s JV basketball games, but when my grandson made Varsity, it became very difficult for my father to attend, as the crowds were more intense and he was more unbalanced on his feet, even with his walker. Sitting in the bleachers was never an option. I would bring his fold-up chair for him to sit on. And I’d play guard to ensure a loose ball didn’t come over and hit him. Going to church ended because he couldn’t tolerate sitting on the hard pews any longer. Taking him shopping ended because he couldn’t walk around the store or even sit and wait. I changed the newspaper delivery to weekends only because he doesn’t read it anymore. I’ll put an Eagles or Philly’s game on the TV, and he falls asleep. He can no longer do stairs, even a few steps. Visiting my children in their homes is a challenge. His memory is failing, and dementia has begun. It’s an ugly process. Currently, I do not feel comfortable taking my father anywhere by myself. So I enlist someone else to go with me. One thing he still likes to do is to take a ride.
This fading process seems to have begun when my father’s independence decreased. With each and every decrease of his ability to use his body and his mind, the fading increased.
Every morning, if I wake up before him, I look into his room to make sure he’s still breathing. When he gets up in the middle of the night—sometimes three times a night—I listen to make sure he doesn’t fall. If he coughs, I wonder if the congestive heart failure is returning. When we take a ride, I hope he doesn’t have to use a restroom, because I’m not sure I can maneuver him by myself. The list of concerns goes on. The bottom line, however, is that he is in his final stage of leaving this earth. Crossing over. And it is my assignment to make sure he’s able to do so with dignity and love. Acceptance, on my part, is where I need to be. I’m getting there—with the help of friends, my children and grandchildren, and more attention to my self-care.
I’ve come to the conclusion that those of us who were chosen to provide caregiving are also there to ensure our loved-ones have a safe and peaceful journey during the fading stage. We must remain vibrant, strong, loud, and visible to help our loved ones.
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, spending time with friends, and applying self-care. Her current full-time position is care-taking her 90-year-old father.