Caregiving Is A Gift That Is Returned To Them

Caregiving Is a Gift That I Returned to Them

Carmella was a a retired fifth grade teacher when she packed up her belongings and moved in with her parents to help care for her father. Carmella shares the hidden caregiving secrets found in knitting, the new ways she learned to bond with her father as an adult and how her parents taught her much of the caregiving skills she now used to help them. This is Carmella's story.

As told to Open Caregiving and lightly edited to enhance readability while preserving the author’s voice.

Getting to know the caregiver

Hi, my name is Carmella. While I am technically part of the Baby Boomer generation, I identify more with Gen X. I live in Pennsylvania and previously cared for my father, who passed a little over a year ago. I currently care for my mom, who is slowly coming to terms with transitioning to an apartment in an aging community.

What did your life look like when you became a caregiver?

I was a disability retired fifth grade teacher (rheumatoid arthritis). I wasn’t so delighted to pack-up all my earthly possessions and to be home, but my parents were very excited. We got along for the most part.

There I learned how old they had now become. They could no longer hide it and were starting to show their age physically and mentally. They were running on autopilot and were fine on their own little track but take them off for any reason and it would meet a catastrophe of unbelievable proportions.

Who did you care for and what prompted their need for care?

I became a caregiver about six years ago when my dad had a bad aspirating pneumonia. He recovered and did about five weeks in rehab, getting him re-trained in protective swallowing. He was a cancer survivor and had lost his esophagus years prior. Mom and I brought him home with a PEG tube still attached. No training. Just out the door and good luck.

My mom took the day shift, and I took the night shift. It was then that I taught myself to knit. It was also then that I realized I was going to have to help clean my dad when he had accidents. At first, I was horrified that it had come to this, but the rehab had him so fine tuned that my dad and his sparkling Irish personality came roaring back. He and I laughed and joked our way through it. It was, as they say, a bonding experience.

I have always been very close with and have dearly loved both of my parents.

What was a memorable learning?

One of my most memorable learnings was how happy it made my dad to bring back some things he loved to do with me in the past, that he could still do in his condition. Growing up, he and I used to stay up all night watching WWII movies on Friday nights. Saturday night was pizza and John Wayne. I think he really loved that I brought back Friday/Saturday night at the movies.

The other memorable thing I learned is that if you love someone, you can and will do anything to keep them clean, comfortable, distracted and out of pain.

What surprised you about caregiving?

As parents get older, their memory and hearing often go. Both things cause many other things such as the TV being at an ear-splitting level or the volume being off with them sitting in silence watching the pictures. Loss of hearing causes the loss of understanding and can lead to self-isolation. Misunderstandings from memory loss become more common and cause arguments and finger pointing.

Your best bet is to accept these changes as they come, be understanding that it is not their fault and try to help them as much as possible.

One other surprising thing I noticed: my parents seemed to run on two time frames emotionally. They were either toddlers ignoring me as I try to keep them safe, or they were 13 years old, despising me while trying to keep their own agency.

What advice would you give to caregivers?

Learn to knit or crochet. People are always super friendly towards you if you are knitting. I spent a lot of time trundling dad and mom to health care visits. This takes up an entire day. Knitting draws people to ask you what you are making. Then they’ll open up and share stories of people they knew and loved who were also knitters.

Knitting can really bring the calming zen when everything is falling to hell or when you are bored in the waiting rooms of various doctors. Finally, knitting is spiritual and prayerful. You can talk with God or Yoda about how your caregiving is going. Both God and Yoda are knitters, I am positive.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

If I could go back in time to when I first became a caregiver, I would tell myself to be to be calm and carry on. Caregiving is driven ever forward by pure love. It’s kind of neat that my parents taught me and my sister how to care for someone. There were many good practical lessons from childhood into adulthood. My parents showed me the way to go and lovingly broke trail for me. In the end, caregiving is a gift that is returned to them, by me, their caregiver.

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