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The Caregiver’s Journal: Death of a Loved One

I am constantly amazed at how quickly life can change for the better or for the worse.  Less than a month ago, Bill and I were in New York City to celebrate his 70th birthday.  We visited Zabar’s and Central Park.  We viewed the Picasso Black and White exhibit at the stunning Guggenheim Museum.

On the day of Bill’s birthday, after a lovely early dinner, we attended an amazing concert presented by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.  Earlier that day we had taken the Grayline Tour bus all the way downtown to Battery Park.  It was a warm sunny afternoon only requiring a light jacket.  We rode the subway back to the Natural History Museum, a short one block stroll from our brownstone home away from home.  All in all, it was a birthday celebration to remember.

Last weekend we saw a lot of Jim Cantore, Weather Channel reporter,  standing in the exact spot where Bill posed for this photo.  The weather couldn’t have been worse, and the wonderful New York subway was closed in hopes of saving the system from catastrophic failure due to storm damage from Hurricane Sandy.

Sometimes caregiving is like this. There are sunny days when we feel great, enjoy being caregivers and love spending quality time with those we are caring for.  I particularly remember one spring day a few months before Dad’s death when the flowering trees were at their peak.  We made a detour on the way home from Dad’s appointment with the VA geriatric specialist into a neighborhood I knew was full of beautiful flowers.  Dad loved it, and so did we.

But caregiving has its dark side.  There are many other days when events combine to give us a perfect storm of illness, fatigue, hurt feelings and confusion.  I remember visits to urgent care and to the ER.  I remember the day we discovered that Dad had lost 50 pounds since arriving in Denver.  I remember the night that the call came telling us that Dad had died in his sleep.

Now New York City and its neighbors along the Eastern Seaboard are in the slow process of clearing out the damage and beginning to rebuild.  So it goes with caregivers of aging parents.  The time comes when there are no more blows to absorb.  The inevitable death of the loved one sweeps us up into a new phase of life.  Then we are called to do the very hard work inherent in this new stage.

We must survive our loss, because we have no other choice.   How we do it is an intensely personal and private matter.  But eventually most of us realize that we cannot honor our loved one by looking backward. We tuck them in our hearts and go forward into whatever life has in store for us—a new life made richer by our memories of the life we shared with them.

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