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By Stevie L. Daugherty
Growing old is a part of life. I’ll be reminded of that Friday when I turn another year older. It’s hard to believe that I only have one more year to enjoy my 20’s, which have been good to me. During the past decade of my life I graduated from college, started my career, got married, built a house and had a baby. I’ve done a lot of growing up, but sometimes I still feel like that insecure teenager that needs her mom to give her all the answers. No matter what my age, I’m not sure that feeling will ever subside.
But what happens when your parents are no longer able to give you the answers? What happens when the tables are turned and you are caring for them?
A close family member of mine has had to figure those answers out recently when her father began suffering from dementia and could no longer care for himself. Until the last few weeks, he was living on his own and doing quite well but his health has taken a turn for the worse. After spending a few weeks in the hospital his daughter was forced to make a very difficult decision. She was forced to put her father in a nursing home. It’s not the choice she wanted to make necessarily but at least she knows that her father is being cared for even when she’s not by his side.
The hardest part for her during this entire process has been watching her father’s mental and physical health deteriorate. His speech has become so slurred that she can barely understand him. He can’t walk on his own and he’s been forced to use a wheelchair. He can’t even go to the bathroom on his own. I can’t imagine how difficult the situation must be for her but she doesn’t complain. After all, her father (like all parents) is the one who raised her and taught her how to eat, how to walk and how to talk. That’s why she goes to visit him during her lunch break almost every day and helps him eat his lunch. Sure, he makes a mess but she doesn’t get frustrated or upset. She remains patient because she knows that when she was a little girl she did the same thing when her father was teaching her how to eat with a fork and spoon.
When her father falls she doesn’t scold him or become embarrassed. She helps him get back on his feet because she knows her father did the same for her when she was learning how to walk. When she can barely comprehend a word that is coming out of her father’s mouth she doesn’t ignore him. Instead, she remains focused and tries to understand him, kneeling in closer to listen. When he repeats himself or forgets things she doesn’t become frustrated or annoyed. Rather, she continues listening. After all, she knows she babbled to him as a young girl learning to talk.
And although she is extremely busy at work she makes time to visit him at least once a day. She knows how important it is for him to have loved ones by his side. He may not always recognize her, but she goes anyway. She knows he looks forward to her coming to visit him, just like she anticipated him coming home from work every night when she was a little girl.
No matter how feeble or absent-minded her father might become within the next few years she will continue loving him and treating him with respect. He’s her father, after all. He gave her life and she will do all that she can so that he can continue living his life with dignity. She knows she owes him that much.
I can only hope to be as strong as she has been if I’m ever faced with a similar situation. The love and compassion she has shown for her father says a lot about her character, as well as her father’s. He raised his daughter well and, in the end, she’s returning the favor.