“Ok, my dear. Thank you.”

terry and dadMy dad has never before called me “dear”.

That word brought tears to my eyes. Such a little thing, and yet a such big emotional impact.

We are spending a few weeks living with my dad – helping him with daily care, giving my sister a few moments of respite from her herculean job of care giving.

I was initially nervous about staying here with him. I was not sure about his abilities to function and interact. I worried that he might not want my help or that I would not know what to do. I haven’t lived close to my elderly grandparents or parents, so am not very comfortable with their lifestyle and needs.

My dad suffers from Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and alcoholism. My dad who was always the extreme self-made-man, strong character and body, intelligent, and absent of affection has become a very dependent, weak, forgetful… sweet and appreciative old man.

He certainly has his moments of confusion, frustration, and stubbornness, but in general, he is not the rough, tough, intimidating father he was before.

Caring for my dad is not easy. It requires patience, flexibility, research, and a lot of new perspective. It means different standards, norms, and routines that would have been unheard of in earlier years. Lucid conversations mixed with confused anxiety. Time, worry, initiative, firmness, creativity, and continual second-guessing and questioning decisions and choices.

Dad’s care is the epitome of living with tension – giving respect and still enforcing new restrictions, allowing for independence and restricting freedoms, offering choices while simplifying options, providing quality of life and ensuring safety, protecting privacy and dignity while also hovering with care.

I do not have any official training for the role of elder care-giver, but care giving is training me. I am learning to slow down… lowering my accomplishment expectations for each day, choosing my words carefully and enunciating as I speak, walking protectively at his side, moving with tenderness and intentionality. None of that is easy for me.

The most important lessons are a repeat of earlier experiences – living fully with the realities of each life-stage and finding contentment there. Just as I learned to overcome fears, serve others, and treasure special moments with infants, toddlers, teenagers, and adult children, I can do the same with my dad.

Every person is important. Every life is valuable. I consider it a privilege and a joy to care for him. I am willing to help my dad without expectation of getting anything in return, but every now and then, I receive a special gift – a “thank you” or a “dear” – from a special person who has nothing more to offer. It is enough.

What has been your experience is caring for elderly loved ones? Do you have any tips for me?

10 thoughts on ““Ok, my dear. Thank you.”

  1. It is easy to slip into treating them like children but I find it better to resist this and as much as possible relate to them as if everything was normal. Try asking him advice from time to time and get some laughter in sometimes.🙂

  2. I remember when my mom asked who that “dear man was” at my wedding. She had been married to him for 25 years before they divorced. So awfully sad

  3. It’s tough when the one you’ve been holding at arm’s length because of a lack of gentleness becomes the needy one–and the gentle one. I love how you describe your dad and his transition–and his challenges. Life never slows, does it? It changes, ebbing and flowing and forcing us to either flex and have faith in the God who walks with us or be frustrated and plow through with our meager attempts to control it. I love how you love your dad well.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Dayle. I feel like I do very little – my sister(s) is the hero – but I am glad to be able to do what I can. It is a challenge to me and my willingness to care for him – or anyone – when there is no real thanks or appreciation. The priniciple applies in many relationships – as you well know. Love you, friend.

  4. Amen! Our dads sound a lot alike. That was a crusty generation! I savor the memories of caring for my dad. It was a holy time. I was caught off guard when I realized how frightened he was at the prospect of dying. I was so startled to find him willing to talk about my beliefs that I was very unsure of how to proceed. If I have any regrets, it is that I didn’t step into those conversations with more confidence and direction. At any moment the little girl in me expected to get “the look” that would send me “to my room.” I needed to relax and lean into the opportunity more confidently. Drink in the moments!

  5. Terry, Your blog brought back memories of the years I cared for mother. Everything you write is what I experienced and I think it’s ok to not know exactly what to do in each situation. It keeps you dependent on your Heavenly Father in a fresh way. Savor the moments you have with him and when he’s no longer there you will be thankful you gave him this time! Love you!

    • Thank you, Alice. I have thought of you so often and refer to things I remember you telling me as I talk with my sister. I may try to connect with you again when we get back to O-Town. Love you, friend!

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