As her father ages, Kathy Perusek cherishes the time she has with him and reflects on the lessons she has learned.
I am now in the sandwich generation, caring for the needs of myself, work, my family, and my aging father. Three years ago, my stepmother passed away, and my dad, who devoted his life to caring for her, became depressed and confused. We began to see signs of cognitive impairment and have been learning how to navigate our new roles as caretakers of the man who always cared for us. This process has been enlightening, painful, and at times, comical! My dad has always been a strong and independent man. He was always available when we needed help, and he has been very generous to us.
Yet growing up, with Dad, was at times, painful. Dad had a very difficult life and endured much suffering. There have been many hurts I have forgiven. I am the oldest of my dad’s four children. My dad and mom had me, Linda, and Ricky. Mom and Ricky died in a tragic accident. Dad remarried, Rosemary, and they had a daughter, Nicole. Rosemary was diagnosed with MS shortly after their wedding, and she declined over many years, eventually becoming bedridden. My dad cared for her at home, where she died peacefully, surrounded by love.
Witnessing my dad’s care for Rosemary impressed upon me long suffering, self-sacrificing love in action. After Rosemary passed, my dad was lost, without a purpose. Dad, who worked as a chemical lab technician and could fix anything electronic, realizes that he is declining mentally, and it must be so hard for him to accept. Dad is smart, witty, sarcastic, and cantankerous; a humble man, refusing any credit for his service in the Air Force or any other compliments. He says, “I didn’t do it for any praise. It’s what anyone would do.” He has spent so much of his life serving others that he never developed any hobbies of his own. He watches TV and enjoys listening to music. I share his love of music. I play songs for him on my phone, and I answer the same questions he has, over and over. His favorite song is Joan Baez singing Forever young. He tears up every time, and I understand why: this song describes him!
It’s been a gradual process of Dad allowing us in and letting go of his independence, including driving, and letting us gradually do more for him as he has become weak, forgetful, unsteady on his feet, and tired. Going to the store is a long, drawn out process, for Dad walks very slowly now, with a cane. I think of how he had to slow down for me when I was his little girl, and I slow my pace.
Dad has always been what I would consider a hoarder, though for him, it was just saving things. My dad grew up in the Depression and learned to be thrifty. This enabled him to plan wisely, save and invest his money. Now he likes to search for things he has kept, collections, old cards, and reminisce. I treasure these times, asking questions, getting to know him better. He may not remember names, but he likes to talk about his love for baseball, and how he played pretty well, and was on a team in the Air Force during his time in Alaska.
As Dad lets me care for him, he teaches me acceptance and humility. I look at my frail, tiny father, and I have flashbacks to being three years old, and riding on his shoulders, and the winter nights he used to pull my sister and I down the street on our wooden sled. I remember how he would painstakingly cut my fingernails, comb my hair, and remove splinters from my fingers. I remember how he taught me to ride a bike. I remember riding in the shopping cart, and what a thrill it was to go to the store with my daddy! So, as tired and spread thin as I feel, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I cherish this sacred time with Dad, and I am grateful and honored to be with him, helping him as he once helped me!
Our time on earth is so very brief. Can we see the beauty and gifts there are in the present moment, even when it is difficult?
Copyright 2020 Kathy Perusek
Images (top to bottom): Tatiana Syrikova (2020), Pexels; all others copyright 2020 Kathy Perusek, all rights reserved.
About the Author
Kathy Perusek is a mother of seven children, and a grandmother. She was a stay-at-home mom until her oldest child graduated college. Kathy then returned to school, earning associate degrees in nursing and arts. She worked as an RN in a hospital, then for hospice; currently, she works in a pediatric practice. She is a former La Leche League leader and enjoys reading, singing, and babysitting.