After our recent response to: Ask the Caregiver’s Voice – What can I do about my abusive dad? a Canadian caregiver writes (edited): I am a sixty-year old with heart disease. I was caring for my ninety-year old father in his own home. I have three sisters who gave me little help. I moved three hours away as I felt the stress was killing me. My father made my life Hell. How do I forgive and forget as this is almost obsessively occupying my mind?
Dear Canadian Caregiver,
I’ll start with my husband’s response to me during a stressful time caring for my father with Alzheimer’s.
“Brenda, your father lived his life; now it time to live ours.”
Trying to take care of yourself with heart disease, while also caring for a loved one who is being difficult, is like trying to swim in a tsunami. You will expend as much strength as you have and then you will die. Of course, dying will absolve you of all memory and guilt! (This is meant to be funny; because the role of a caregiver can only be survived with a sense of humor or leaving the situation.)
Still, if you are like many, you will endure days and weeks of trying to overcome your memories of the experience. You will likely wonder how your father could make your life so miserable. Oftentimes, the primary caregiver gets the brunt of the abuse. However, now that you’ve physically removed yourself from the situation, you need to do this mentally as well; otherwise, you will allow his behaviors to have power over your life.
Now that you live far away and are gaining back your strength, you may even begin to feel guilty for leaving your father, thinking that caring for him was not as bad as you thought.
Understand, the toll of caregiving is great and we caregivers often get lost among the trees in the forest. Sadly many die before their loved ones do. So, in this case, applaud your decision to save your life by getting out of a hellish situation.
Not know all the details–such as what illness your father has or how he’s made your life hell, I will share a little of my experience with my father with a recommendation to read a couple books. Hopefully, both can help you as you navigate your role as a former (or distant?) caregiver.
My husband and I cared for my father with Alzheimer’s. I was born on his 49th birthday and he was in his late eighties. We were in our late thirties and had more energy. Still, the struggles, sleepless nights, and stress we endured trying to keep up with his care were catching up with us. Despite our relative youth, we started showing signs of Alzheimer’s–forgetting, getting disoriented on familiar roads, driving into the garage door three times, and more. There’s a name for this: Caregiver Dementia
Like you, my siblings were not involved in his care even though my brother lived in our father’s home and my sister lived five blocks away. I flew to my father’s home each year to check up on him along with monthly phone calls, plus calls the local geriatric professionals for guidance and updates. Meamnwhile, my siblings said they were “too busy” to bother with our father’s care.
Finally, when his dementia progressed to where the professionals advised that something must be done otherwise he might injure himself or another; I flew 2000 miles to move him from his Wisconsin home of 45 years into our home in California.
Once we could not manage his care any longer, we moved him into a local skilled nursing facility with secured doors. Since he wandered we could not move him into a board and care (a residential care home) and there were no assisted living communities in our area at the time.
We were physically upset at committing the ultimate betrayal by moving him. We experienced bouts of diarrhea, nausea, headaches, and more. Even after his “great escape” from the facility and later being found on a cold winter’s night walking along a highway in the Mojave Desert, we realized we made the right decision. This is where he lived his remaining years and where our caregiving family grew as we formed a new family among fellow caregivers and their loved ones.
“A masterpiece of information and insider knowledge, Brenda weaves answers and solutions into every page. She takes the reader on a journey covering every possible question a caregiver could ask and does not leave a single stone unturned. This is the most thorough, honest, helpful, and empowering book written for caregivers to date.”
—Jane Verity, OTR, FT, CSP
Dementia Specialist, Founder & President, Dementia Care Australia
“Brenda skillfully explores the heartaches and mysteries of a disease that transforms so many lives. She takes us through the dark realm of sexually inappropriate behaviors to the humorous antics that only a caregiver can appreciate. Anyone who has ever cared for a dementia affected loved one can identify with her and appreciate her candor and sense of humor in describing such sensitive issues.”
—Mary C. Fridley RN, BSN, BC
Caregiver Consultant/Advisor & Columnist
Caregivers find JOY caring for their loved ones. How about a game of Scrabble®? Or a caregiver respite at 13,500 feet (4,115 meters)?
“A rich, informative, and moving collection of personal accounts, poems, and essays about the experiences caregivers face coping with Alzheimer’s disease. I recommend caregivers read a few stories a day to help them better understand the disease, learn caregiving tips, and most of all realize that they are not alone.”
—David Troxel, MPH, Author of The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer’s Care