Written by Donna L. Scrafano
The definition of “caretaker,” as referenced in the Webster II New Riverside Webster dictionary, reads: “one employed to look after goods, property or another person: CUSTODIAN.” Oh, if only the tasks of caretaking were so very precise, as is this definition.
A few years ago, I was asked by family members to take early retirement and care for my elderly father. It was a decision that created a whirlwind of changes. Within two weeks, I left my employment, sold my home, took over my parent’s family home and became the caregiver for my elderly father.
The first four months consisted of learning how to co-exist with my father. I had lived independently for many years, so co-existing with someone was the first challenge to tackle. The fact that is was my father, made the challenge easier.
My father soon developed Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), pneumonia, needed a new pacemaker along with a myriad of other medical issues which were discovered. On the road to recovery, he fell. This fall rendered him with a broken neck. The long-term effects of this new injury and associated medical concerns made my father now totally dependent on me.
The roles one takes on, when caregiving, include: medical advocate, nurse, insurance broker, accountant, nutritionist, protector, house-maid, decision maker, professional shopper i.e. food, clothing, supplies, etc. When caregiving a parent, it becomes even more challenging because the roles have reversed. Caring for a parent, who once cared for you, is both confusing and sad. It took quite some time for my brain to catch up with the reversal. To date, it is still quite sad to watch my father, as I call it, “fade.”
I have worked my entire professional life in Human Services. I have provided direct services, managed multiple programs simultaneously, and spent many years, as an Administrator. Additionally, the programs and agency’s I managed were predominantly 24/7 facilities. Yet, none of my professional experiences come close to the mandates of being sole caregiver for my father. It is, in my opinion, the equivalent of working two full time positions; without earned PTO. I had to educate myself on so many levels. One of the challenges, of which I had no previous experience, was maneuvering through the Medicare Advantage insurance plan my father had. After countless days and hours and thirty pages of documentation later, I won two appeals. I switched my father to a supplemental plan that worked like a charm. Advocating for the one you are caregiving is vital. And it’s constant. The world, unfortunately, is full of systems and people that prey on vulnerable populations. Safety of your loved one, in all respects, is at the core. You must be their eyes, ears, and most of all their voice.
I was a caregiver for my father for two years. In addition to the challenges that come with the caregiving of another human being, there are challenges in making sure self-care is happening, too. My research led me to the local Bureau on Aging, an Adult Day Program, and I was also able to enlist a retired CNA to assist with my father’s personal care. I also found support systems in friends and support groups. I attempted to work a part time position to keep my sanity. But it became too cumbersome, as my father’s needs became greater. I have always believed in self-care as a top priority. I lost sight of this. So, I had to make some life changes and put a caregiving plan in place for me.
If you, or someone you know is a caregiver, be sure a self-care plan is developed. This position is one that is quite demanding. I believe it is assigned to someone who is able to handle the stress and responsibility of it all. Regardless of how exhausting caregiving can be, the benefits are quite satisfying.
I look at this experience as another part of my journey through life. I’m determined to grow from it. And my father’s last stage of his journey is one of peace and dignity.
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.