Looking back, it’s hard to realize my husband and I spent almost 15 years as caregivers for my parents. We were lucky enough to have them move to our town when I was expecting our second child. Their move was a great surprise because they had a lovely home with a half-acre garden, an orchard and Southdown sheep grazing just steps from their backdoor. We had considered this little bit of paradise to be their forever home. However, while visiting them one weekend, we found out my father had a different idea.
Our second child was a month old, and we had driven to Mom and Dad’s house to show off their newest grandchild. At dinner, I was totally shocked when Dad announced, “Mother, we need to move to Yuma and help with Karen and Randy’s kids. Karen has to go back to teaching soon, and I don’t want someone else taking care of our grandkids.”
Mother nodded her head, and that was that. The house and acreage were sold, and mom and dad bought the house right next door to us. It was a true blessing to have them so close and to know our children were in their loving hands when I was working.
While I taught elementary school and my husband worked at a goldmine, Mom and Dad, 65 and 75 at the time, cared for our children. At a time when most retired people were sitting in a recliner reading the newspaper or watching television, my parents were outdoors weeding the garden with their grandkids, feeding the sheep that had also made the move or planting flowers in the beds bordering the front of their house. Each day was a happy, new adventure for both the kids and my parents.
Time passed, and the kids became teenagers. Old-age caught up to Mom and Dad, and we changed roles. Randy and I were now the caregivers and began our almost monthly three-hour drives to San Diego for my parents’ medical appointments. We didn’t mind at all and felt grateful they were able to live full lives for as long as possible. I always thought caring for their grandchildren had given them an extra spurt of energy and a reason to get up each morning.
As time continued passing, my father’s health worsened and he was diagnosed with cancer. Just learning a loved one has cancer sends a dark, cold chill down your body. From that moment on, life was never the same. Dad didn’t complain, and he put up a valiant fight against this formidable enemy. In fact, he won the battle and was cancer-free for several years. But at the age of 92, he became thinner and thinner, and we knew the cancer had returned.
We quickly lost him. One moment he was talking to Mom, and the next moment he was gone. The shock of losing him was a heavy burden that was hard for all of us.
However, life continued on. Mom moved in with us and enjoyed her garden club activities and watching her teenage grandkids perform clogging routines, play at piano recitals and perform in school plays.
Twelve years after Dad’s death, a massive stroke paralyzed Mom’s left side. Bedridden, and with Hospice caregivers helping round the clock, mom lasted several months before passing away at the age of 95.
It was a shock when I realized the job I had performed for so many years was suddenly over. No more runs to the ER, no more long drives to doctors in San Diego, no more pill boxes to fill and no more getting up in the night to make sure everyone was OK.
It took over two years after my mother’s death before I felt out of the “caregiver mode” and could actually relax a bit. I had not realized how tense and on edge I had been while caring for my parents all those years. The thought is always in the back of your mind that, at any moment, one parent or the other could have a medical emergency. At that time, the burden of making decisions necessary to deal with the emergency falls on the caregiver, and that is a heavy load to carry night and day.
It has been 12 years since my father left us and four years since my mother passed away. I think about Mom and Dad daily but have gone on with my life. Both kids are on their own, leaving my husband and I with an empty nest.
I can’t say I totally enjoy this new phase of life, but I keep busy. I write a gardening column for our local newspaper, am secretary for a garden club and have begun paying attention to my own health. I have taken up water aerobics and have hired a personal coach to help me improve my fitness.
Yes, those years as a caregiver were tough and stressful at times, but I was honored to fill that role. The precious moments my parents spent with their grandchildren and with us were worth every minute of stress I felt as a caregiver.
Life is not always sweet, but most of the time it is. Caring for my parents taught me that life’s storms are followed by rainbows and sunshine. Who could ask for more?
Karen Bolton is a Sam’s Club member residing in Yuma, AZ, who was kind enough to share her story with us. To submit your own story to Healthy Living Made Simple, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us at Facebook.com/hlmsmag.