Caregiving for an elder is a trying and exhausting task. We give up much of our own lives to aid another in leaving their life. I dwelled on this thought in sadness, thinking, “What’s the use? Work yourself to near exhaustion every day, give up your own life, then they die.” It seems fruitless and depressing.
What is missing in that assessment is the reason we become caregivers in the first place: love. We love the aging parent and they love us. Every act of helping an old and sick parent is an act of love. In most cases, the response is gratitude and a reflection of love. Life is so important that one helping another to live, then to leave life, is an affirmation of the wonder and mystery of life. Caregiving, no matter how difficult, fills the world with the statement that the one I am caring for matters, and their leaving diminishes us all.
Death diminishes us, but the actions in fostering peace, comfort, and personal connection in the elder strengthens our life and our capacity for love. We lose a loved one, but we gain a new sense of wonder of the miracle of life, and we celebrate the life that was lived. We have had a tragic loss, but we have gained the strength and wisdom to live a better life in the time remaining to us.
Visiting Frank in Florida as he became increasingly frail meant a sacrifice for us, but it brought him the knowledge that we cared, and how much he meant to us. We would have burgers at his favorite restaurant and visit the picturesque downtown of Mount Dora. On one trip we rented a house that overlooked the pond in the picture. There were egrets, great blue herons, waterfowl, and a pair of bald eagles. We would pick Frank up in the morning, watch the wildlife, have lunch, and spend time together until Frank wanted to go home for his nap. As you can see, the picture was taken after a rain, but Frank always said, “The weather is always perfect and it only rains at night.” An Upper Midwesterner for most of his life, he loved Florida.
We knew he was nearing the end of life when he said he wanted to move to Colorado. While here, I took him on a number of outings. We would go up into the foothills (mountains to you flatlanders) looking for elk. We always saw wildlife, elk once. I also took him up the Oh My God Road from Idaho Springs to Central City, two of Colorado’s first mining towns. The road is unpaved, narrow, steep, and has several tight switchbacks. Frank exclaimed, “Why would anyone ever want to come up this road?” He loved Denver’s Red Rocks Park, as does anyone who has gone there or seen a concert in the natural amphitheater. He also loved the flowering springtime.
The family gathered for Frank’s ninetieth birthday. Everyone had a good time and Frank basked in the attention and love. We had good times. Caregiving has pain and sorrow, but it also leaves fond memories.