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What a Blessing

When I was 18, my dad (then 54) suffered a massive stroke. The stroke affected the left side of his brain, which controls the right side motor functions, as well as speech. He went from working construction to being in a wheelchair with no speech or comprehension. He was diagnosed with aphasia (the inability to comprehend words) and apraxia (the inability to complete motor tasks) in his case this meant to move his mouth to form words, letters, and sounds.

It was devastating for our family. My family consists of my dad, mom, and older sister. My sister was married at this point in time and my mom was working full-time in the public school system and I was living away at school.

After a year of live-in rehabs, juggling neighbors checking in on my dad, at home nurses, and lots of time off for my mom, the money ran out, the neighbors got burnt out, and my moms’ vacation time all but disappeared.

So I made the decision to come home and help. This was a really hard decision for me considering that my dad and I had a rough relationship. He is bipolar, and had many highs and lows which greatly affected me through childhood. This however is where our story changed, because I have often thought how thankful I am that I made the decision to move home and care for my dad.

I spent ten years driving him to speech, occupational and physical therapies, washing his body, giving him haircuts, taking him to movies, reading to him, making him meals, helping him in the bathroom, crying with him, visiting him in hospitals, care centers, and rehabs, putting on his compression socks and gloves, hand and leg braces, going on walks, watching television shows, making him go outside, arguing with him about exercising, picking him up off the ground after a seizure or fall, holding his hand, talking to him, trying to figure out what he was saying, watching him hold my first child, or second or third, praying with him, and for him, and loving him in a way I never experienced before this happened.

I wish I could say that all of this accumulated to a recovery, that when you love and care and exhaust your body and spirit so completely that something miraculous happens. But I believe and saw first-hand this isn’t always the case, and would seem to be the exception when caregiving is involved. But I want to share what this love and dedication and tireless work does do, it creates and enables the caregiver to realize the purest form of love and compassion.

My dad had a thing about having his fingernails clipped. It was a priority to him, and sadly didn’t happen as often as he would like. Partly because he was so particular about having it done. Only his left hand had function but after clipping each nail he would use the other fingers sliding across the newly cut nail to see how smooth it was, often making you re-clip or file each nail after. This was particularly frustrating. When my dad died two years ago, as my small family gathered around to help dress him, I looked at his body prepared for burial and noticed his nails, how unkempt they were and asked for fingernail clippers and a file to make sure that he knew I loved him. This small act of service, that so compelled me when all was said and done, solidified what a blessing caregiving is.