Dementia + Caregiving…My New Normal

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 bathroom, if he’s chewing enough to not choke, if he’s had adequate liquids so he doesn’t get dehydrated and if I can possibly watch another episode of Everybody Loves Raymond for the hundredth time.

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 Learned?

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,

Keli

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