Caregiving reaps many dividends

February 24, 2011|Alicia Notarianni | Making Ends Meet

My dad is not well.

So unwell, in fact, that my four siblings and I know he can no longer be at home.

Given a neuromuscular disease, cardiac and pulmonary issues, a recently broken hip and a bout with pneumonia, he is all but debilitated and requires around-the-clock care. He has been in and out of the hospital and a nursing home with short attempts at staying home in between for months.

While we know rationally that we can't provide the care he needs at home, coming to terms with that idea emotionally and sentimentally is another story. Following his most recent hospital discharge, we declined the social worker's nursing home recommendation, and again my dad went home.

My mom passed away a few years ago. My sister who lives near my dad took what she intended to be short-term Family and Medical Leave to care for him, along with the help of my brothers who live in that area. Another sister and I live in different states and travel home as much as possible to pitch in.

We'd all like to think that with some TLC, meds, treatments, therapies and time that he will bounce back. But the unlikeliness of that is becoming increasingly and painfully clear.

The time caring for my dad has been sweet. He never wanted to imagine that one day his children would be helping him attend to the most intimate details of his life. Neither did we, really.

But despite the initial apprehension, I've found joy in caring for him. Often when I used to visit, I'd be chasing the kids around or trying to finish little household projects for him before I had to leave again.

While heartbreaking on one hand, tending to my dad's personal needs has focused my attention on him. It's given us time to connect and converse in ways that we rarely have.

Not that it hasn't been trying, too. His inability to do things that most people take for granted has been a major blow to his dignity. He feels frustrated and humiliated, and his mood often is no walk in the park. Sometimes I need to check my response. It reminds me of the adage that says anyone can behave well in the good times; it's how you respond in the tough times that really shows who you are.

There are moments when I am tempted to barge back at my dad or walk out of the room. At the same time, it's a perfect opportunity to reflect the virtues my parents demonstrated  to me growing up and hoped I'd have as an adult — patience, empathy and unconditional love among them.

Experiencing all of this coming full circle is precious and humbling.

I — along with my siblings and my dad — am wrestling with the fact that none of us is going to be able to provide all that he needs on a long-term basis in his home. I am thankful though, that as we agonize over the difficult decisions before us, and I've been awakened to bittersweet blessings.

For legal and financial information regarding parental caregiving, contact local agencies like Washington County Commission on Aging at or check out resources such as, and

Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her e-mail address is

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