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Finding the beautiful moments through the emotional chaos of caregiving

July 22, 2022

Though my entire family is close, my dad and I had a special connection. I was always in tune with his emotions. That sixth sense helped greatly when my father experienced post-stroke declines in speech and movement in his last years. During that time, he lived with me and my mother. Together, we navigated the long and tough road of caregiving for him.  

As anyone who is or was a caregiver knows, it’s a difficult role. The hardest part was watching him lose his independence in every way. I could see his sorrow and fear as he gradually lost his ability to perform tasks we take for granted. In those moments, I knew it was my job to recognize his feelings and create an environment where he knew he could count on me—his mouthpiece and crutch. Now, a year into losing my dad, I’m finally comfortable reflecting beyond the tears to see the beauty in those extremely emotional and trying times.  

Photos of a family

Speaking through laughter, sleeping with smiles 

When daddy started losing his ability to express himself, he shut down socially. Loved ones stopped coming by or calling as often, many not understanding his new disability. For my mom, brother, and I, it broke our collective hearts to see how he desperately wanted to share his thoughts with anyone patient enough to listen. In those situations, he would lock eyes with me when he felt comfortable chiming in with a witty one-liner. In turn, I knew to create room in the group chatter to give him a minute to share his thoughts. When he did, the room lit up with smiles and laughter, and everyone had a moment of normalcy to cherish with him.  

Over the last two years, my mom and I helped get him dressed and in bed each night. I massaged his feet to help his circulation and held him by his arm as he laid down into the one comfortable sleeping position he could manage. I knew he felt like a burden, and I couldn’t bear to leave the room without attempting to make him laugh in some way. I’d tell a joke or repeat something one of the grandkids said, just to be able to look back, exchange a simple “goodnight,” and see him smiling.  

Appreciate the little things  

As daddy lost his ability to walk without support, nothing else mattered but spending time with him. During our strolls together, time and schedules didn’t matter. He taught me to pay attention and seek beauty in the little things many of us miss in our “busy” days. From the brightest yellow finches whizzing by to a neighbor waving hello, we found such happiness living in the moment, giving that time together the value it deserved.  

Some say caregivers are unselfish, but in those moments, I was very selfish. I know those moments with daddy were precious because nothing else mattered to me. Now, he’s gone, and all I know to do is to pay tribute to him by doing something he couldn’t do in his last days—use my words to let anyone willing to listen know that I loved my daddy more than I can bear.  

Looking back, though moments as a caregiver for daddy felt filled with despair and sadness, they were moments with him, the man who is my biggest influence, my hero, and the best version of a man I’ll ever see in my life. How blessed am I to have that? As Freddie Mercury once sang, “Those were the days of our lives.” I feel that now more than ever.