By Donna L. Scrafano
I didn’t really look at caring for my elderly father as a journey. At least not “my” journey. I believed it was my father’s journey and that I was assigned to make sure he traveled through it safely. Little did I know or realize, until the very end, that the journey also belonged to me. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” I really didn’t want to embrace this saying, at least for the first two years of caring for my father. Instead, I believe I felt angry most days. Angry that my two remaining siblings did little to nothing to help in the care of my father. Angry that I had left my home, my residential town, and moved to an area where I felt isolated and trapped. Angry because my once daily visits with my children and grandchildren were strained, due to the changed logistics of travelling between our homes. Angry because I felt sentenced to watch my father slowly fade away. The list could go on and on. However, I’ll end it there.
Two years into caregiving, I finally did embrace Nietzsche’s phrase. I decided to look at the new-found strengths I had acquired. Certainly not physical strengths, but emotional, mental, and spiritual strengths. I had considered myself emotionally strong for many years, but what I’ve learned through this process, this journey, is that there is always room to grow—in all respects. I was able to grow emotionally by feeling vulnerable, something I didn’t think existed in me. Surprise! It certainly did. My spirituality—not religion, but learning to trust in God, in the universe, and in myself, my intuition—was the most critical. It was then, when I took the bull by the horns, so to speak, that I made changes, major changes that helped me to care for my father and that relieved me of the feelings of isolation and being trapped—changes that also re-established the ability to resume the almost daily visits with my children and grandchildren. These changes also brought my father stimuli, love, and a constant smile on his sweet face. So, my anger dissipated.
It was then that I realized that this journey not only belonged to my father, but to me as well. This let me break through the barriers that I was allowing to steal my joy, my life. I learned to ask for assistance, I engaged in additional self-care, and I recognized my own growth. I recognized that this journey, “my” journey, was unlike any other I had been on. The insurmountable challenges and changes throughout the years of caring for my father were a menagerie of growth, acceptance, and getting to know myself. This journey increased my skills and yet identified my limitations, which I acknowledged and accepted. Most importantly, I learned how to ask for courage, grace, and mercy—again, attributes I didn’t think I needed help with. All were answered. Granted.
On July 15th, 2019 at 11:18 a.m., my sweet father’s journey ended, in this world anyway. Up until the very day his soul began to vacate the earth, he was smiling and enjoying life as he knew it. The day before he became unresponsive, he attended his day program and had a very good time. That same night he participated in my granddaughter’s gender reveal party. He wore a blue shirt for team “boy.” He ate all of his dinner and had not one, but two pieces of cake. My father loved his sweets. We had conversations about him being a great-great grandfather in December, of this year. The “reveal” told him that he was going to have a great-great granddaughter, Ella Rose. Of course, my father was happy. Excited. He said, “As long as the baby is healthy, that’s all that matters.” The next morning, however, on July 13, he was virtually unresponsive. I had always prayed that my father would leave this earth as he lived his life—quietly, humbly, peacefully, with no pain, and with dignity. And so he did. My father’s journey ended as he lived his life on July 15, 2019, surrounded by his family and friends.
My journey continues, with the increased strengths and the knowledge that I was so very blessed with while guiding my father through his journey.
Photo provided by author and “heaven and earth” by Ian Plant (US) Deviant Art and author of The Ultimate Guide to Digital Nature Photography.
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.