by Donna L. Scrafano
Someone once posted on Facebook “I’m in between giving up and seeing how much I can take.” As sole caregiver for my elderly father, this statement often describes me. Fortunately or unfortunately giving up or “quitting” doesn’t seem to be in my DNA. So when is enough enough? When do we come to the realization that the circumstances have become too cumbersome? When do we know that we’re stretched to our limit? When?
In order to care for my father, I moved from the city of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to Forks Township, a distance of a little more than 20 miles. But right off the bat, this disrupted my life. Although the distance doesn’t sound like much, I was accustomed to visiting or attending functions in Bethlehem with my adult children and grandchildren at least four times per week, so now I wouldn’t be able to see them as often. The move also took me from the city to suburbia, something I never ever wanted to do. In addition to seeing my children and grandchildren on a regular basis, I had enjoyed the culture of the city of Bethlehem—walking through the neighborhoods and through the downtown district, admiring the historical buildings and homes. And if I wanted nature, I’d hop on the trail at the local park.
In Forks Township I took over the family home, because my father refused to leave. This was my mother’s “dream home,” a modest three-bedroom ranch on an acre of land that my parents built in 1974. But I really prefer my previous and smaller three-story town house, with a very small backyard, which I actually cemented over. Although there are many wonderful childhood memories attached to my family homestead, it is not really home to me any more. Nonetheless, I sold my place in the city and arrived in suburbia with bags and baggage to begin the caregiving process and to assume responsibility for my father and the property.
The first year and a half was an adjustment phase, for sure. I believe the most challenging was the new distance between my children, grandchildren, and me. Second was the culture shock. Transitioning from city to suburban life was and still is difficult because I must drive everywhere I want or need to go. I can’t walk on my road because there are no sidewalks and some people drive as if they’re on the Interstate. Unsafe. Additionally, after two years, I developed allergies—at the age of 63! I remained in denial and wouldn’t go for testing until a year after the symptoms appeared. My joke was, “I’m allergic to Forks Township.” Finally, after suffering with itchy skin for a year, I decided to have an allergy test. Sure enough, I am allergic to pine, walnut, maple, and spruce trees. My parents property is lined with pine trees, and they have woods in the back of the house. I’m also allergic to grass, ragweed, and other types of weeds, plus mold. On an acre of land there is plenty of all of that. So it’s confirmed—I really am allergic to Forks Township.
It got worse. After three years of providing caregiving for my father, I also had to be treated for anxiety, situational high blood pressure, a lower-back issue, and eczema. I am a firm believer that stress is a major culprit behind most diseases and disorders, and although I practice self-care on a regular basis, my body still seems to be reacting. The word “quitting” has begun to enter my thoughts, though a less negative word like “relinquish” might be more accurate.
The tasks and sacrifices involved in being a sole caregiver are far beyond most people’s comprehension. Your life is not your own. You lose many of your freedoms. You must think, talk, walk, and provide safety for two adults—yourself and the person you are caring for. And more often than not, the outcome for the caregiver can be debilitating. Again, I think, when do we relinquish? When do we quit? Possibly when our own health is compromised? Or when our bodies send us messages that cannot and should not be ignored? I don’t think there’s any one answer. It is a very personal choice, a very personal journey. We all have limitations and that’s OK. We need to accept our limitations and honor them, as such, regardless of the outcome. After all, we need to be our own caregivers. If we don’t take care of ourselves, no one—and I mean no one—else will.
Photo credits: publicdomainpictures.net, pxhere.com, wikimedia.org,
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.