Alanna Woody is part of the Caregiving Advice team. Here, she shares her thoughts on caregiving in this poignant piece called “Lessons From My Father.”
Lessons From My Father
Caregiving, while having a positive connotation, can be one of the most difficult experiences of one’s life. Recently, on a morning drive back to college, I talked with my dad about his process of moving my great grandmother from her home in Philadelphia to an assisted living home near us. It was not easy, but in observing his attention to detail and compassion, I learned so much about caregiving along the way.
We moved my great-grandmother, Gloria Marchione, from her Philadelphia home of 40 years to a small assisted living community in Lancaster, PA. She was less than happy with this uprooting process, but when dementia started to creep its way in, the family had to work together to make the difficult decision for her.
During my drive with my dad, he noted how he soon realized how selfish one can be. By focusing his attention on his grandmother, he could peel back the layers of his own selfish behavior. And he recognized that while he still got frustrated — and questioned the process a lot — he ultimately chose to do what was right for her because she was still a person.
He noted, too, that it is easy to treat someone as a case, or a bunch of tasks. You can easily forget that the person you’re caring for is still your flesh and blood, even amidst a dimming mind and body. He reminded me that we must continue to engage with them on this side of heaven.
The questioning and frustrations also came when my dad had to make tough decisions. Some of the decisions he made, like choosing to place her in assisted living, were not well-received by everyone in the family. However, because he was reminded of her humanness, he was better able to choose what was best for her.
And lastly, he realized how important it was to take care of himself. He reminded me of the airplane safety metaphor: you must put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you can help anyone else. We must understand what we can and cannot give. For my dad, self-care was anything he could look forward to at the end of the day, like watching a movie or reading up on his favorite sports teams. It also took the form of maintaining a sense of humor — being able to laugh at all of life’s joys and failures.
While caregiving can be especially challenging with loved ones, it is still both a necessary and beautiful process. By caring deeply, we can work to unravel our own selfish behavior, and learn more about love, real love, in the process.
Your turn: Readers, what lessons have you learned about caregiving from your parents or other role models?