It’s a little over a year now since I (the caregiving daughter) made the decision to place The Vic (my dementia-rockin’ dad) in a nursing home.
Actually, the term used now is Community Living Center and he lives out his days in a “secured neighborhood” (say locked unit and you’ll get some looks and a kind correction around those parts).
Whatever the gentle term is now, the reality is some days I feel like I’m still in process mode from being a caregiver for ten years and watching dementia take hold of my Pops – my favorite person in the whole world.
And other days I feel like I’m finally settling into my new normal.
A new normal that’s odd, yet free because I have my life back.
Strong words right? “Have my life back.”
You’d think I was in a war or something.
Nah, nothin’ like that.
Or, wait, is dementia and caregiving like war?
Not the war I will ever know (or want to know), thank God.
But, I do have my own battle wounds and mental health concerns that dad did when he was a Marine, I’m sure.
A daily battle between caregiving for my 80-something-year old pops and keeping my head (and my hubs and daughter) above water.
The Vic usually quips, “Semper Fi, M*ther F*cker!” And always faithful to this crazy-ass journey of dementia and caregiving, I am, even when it doesn’t make much sense.
And isn’t that a lot like life in general?
Dementia + Caregiving…My New Normal
Well, I’m able to have a thought to myself without wondering if dad needs to go to the
But funny shows like that keep him laughing while I gobble down my food and take a short piss. So, it’s Raymond in the background yet again.
When dad officially went to his new “home” I was nervous, yet relieved.
Emotions were having their way with me like an ocean wave, yet deep down, the calm was so there. I knew it was the next step and he was in damn good hands.
I visit him frequently and dad even scared us with some out-of-nowhere deathbed moments.
But like the tough-ass Marine he’s always been, he rallied and now when I go visit the dude I can barely keep up with him ‘cause he’s always on the go.
He doesn’t recall my name hardly anymore.
But he does light up when I walk into the room to see him.
And on an adventure like the dementia journey, that’s a win.
Dad’s not aggressive or agitated (thank God & crossing toes and hair strands he remains that way).
Dad laughs — at practically everything — and then asks, “We going somewhere?”
I remark to the nurses (who are straight-up angels), “When dad stops laughing, that’s when we worry, ok?”
Laughter is his barometer and he’s shown us, we should use it more often.
It’s been a tinge over a year since I decided to tap out as the primary caregiver and reassemble my mental health, my relationship with my husband and daughter…my connection with my own damn self that didn’t include all-up-in-your-face caregiving.
What Caregiver Learning Lessons Have
I wish I could spout off some really deep schoolings with a nice bullet-point list you can easily scan and maybe talk about with someone else in this caregiver life.
But I can’t.
Because I feel like I’m still integrating.
I’m still trying to “find” the Keli that’s not a caregiver and a wife and a mother.
What I do know is when I see dad, the visits are shorter because there’s not much to say and he usually takes off every couple of seconds.
I hug and squeeze and give him tons of kisses and love and reconcile this is just the next stage of dementia.
In some way though, I gain solace knowing I held him so tightly for ten years.
The caregiver role never goes away I’ve been told, it just changes.
And just like life that constantly changes – over time – I will take in the ginormity that was being a caregiver for my father…particle by particle.
For now, I will just enjoy the tranquility of eating without interruption, a TV screen that’s black and noise-less and the ability to go to the bathroom and scroll on my phone until my legs and feet start to tingle.
Sorry hubs and daughter — the bathroom is now my sanctuary.
Love + Loving the Little Things,