Doing the Daughter Thing: Taking Care of Dad


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Dear friends, I spent the past month immersed in helping my 91-year-old father as he deals with severe heart disease and waits for surgery to repair his aortic valve. His condition had gotten so bad that I dropped everything here in Oregon and drove as quickly as I could to San Jose, California to help him. Not wanting to get caught as I did with my mother, I even brought a funeral outfit, just in case. Luckily I didn’t need it because I forgot the chemise that goes under the sheer blouse and it wouldn’t have been good to show up with a see-through top. I’m sure his electrician friends would have been impressed!
I fell into this odd role, part daughter, part substitute wife, cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, driving my father to his many doctor’s appointments and tests, and endless hours of talking. Dad can talk for hours without stopping, and he has many great stories to tell. But he also needed to talk through what’s happening to him, to try to make sense of the fact that the end of his life is coming soon, even if the surgery is a success. I think listening to him was more important than washing his shirts or putting three meals a day on the table.
While I was there, I got sick. I think it was food poisoning. Bad chicken. Dad got it, too, but I got it worse, and I’m still getting over it. Heck of a weight-loss plan. Luckily my brother had come from his home three hours away to take Dad for his angiogram. I wasn’t going anywhere that day. The next day Mike went home, and I resumed my caregiving role, still feeling like crap but carrying on.
Most of my work, including this blog, got left behind. Not only was I unable to get online at Dad’s house, but eventually it didn’t seem that important in view of everything else.
Ultimately, Dad’s medication helped him feel better, and I needed to catch up with things in my own life, so I came home. A big part of me feels like I should still be in San Jose. I’ll go back next month for the surgery, a relatively new alternative to open-heart surgery that is being performed in San Francisco.
What has all this got to do with being childless? More than you think. I often thought over the past month how different things would be if I had a husband and children. I would not fall so easily back into the role of care-giving daughter perhaps, and I could summon other people to help. Last Saturday, my brother, his wife, his son and his daughter-in-law went to visit our father. They did yard work, fixed the plumbing, bought groceries, made lunch, and kept Dad company as a team. I wish I had a team like that.
If I had children, they’d be adults now, and they could help “Grandpa.” They could also help me when I need it. And that would be sweet. But I do have friends, friends who took over my day-job duties, friends who sorted my mail and sent me my bills so I could pay them, friends who visited my dog Annie so she wouldn’t be lonely, and a friend who just invited me to join her family for Thanksgiving. Friends are not the same as family, but in some ways, they may be better. I can be my goofy self with my friends instead of the dutiful daughter or the mature aunt that the kids see as an old lady.
Although he has children, my father still spends a lot of time alone. My brother, my aunt, a couple cousins and I are driving him a little nuts with phone calls making sure he’s still all right, but ultimately, although he had a wife and two children, he is alone most of the time. Most widowed elders are alone a lot, even if they have a dozen children. If they’re lucky, they have great friends like I do.
This story is not over. This is merely intermission. Forgive the rambling post. So much has happened. Feel free to comment and share your thoughts and experiences.
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8 thoughts on “Doing the Daughter Thing: Taking Care of Dad

  1. By accident, I ran across your post on singing a silly duck song. I was 16 when I wrote that thing because I wanted kids at camp to have something to sing besides Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore. I was drafted three years later and went to Vietnam. I never wrote again. I came back nearly deaf. So did you so the arm movement and all the goofy things that went with it? After the war my faith went away.
    You have a unique approach to being childless by choice. A choice some of my younger friends, male and female, are making and facing many of the same issues you have and continue to have. Issues you have faced with a mix of fear and strength. I admire your courage. And you are blessed to have friends, music and a creative spirit.
    Thought you might like to hear from the guy who wrote a silly song that has some how managed to stick around in Christian camp lore…

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  2. Sadly, most of our elderly have to spend the remaining days of their lives alone. Your father is lucky to receive phone calls from his loved ones. Others don't even have the chance to communicate with their relatives. Anyway, I hope you treasure the last phase of your dad's life. I know you also want to focus on your personal life, but I believe you'll have lots of time to do that even after he's gone. Take good care of your father, Sue! 🙂

    Roland Todd @ HomeCareSugarLand.com

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  3. Thanks, Roland, I'm doing the best I can. And I am treasuring this time. Most people don't get to have their parents as long as I have. And yes, there are a lot of elderly people who never hear from anyone. If that makes anyone out there feel guilty, pick up the phone!

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  4. Hi Sue, my mom is in a nursing home with advanced end-stage dementia, and she's in her late 70's. My dad is in his early 80's and he visits her every day. When she passes then I wonder what will happen with my dad, but fortunately I'm one of six siblings so that will help. I'm glad your father is still aware and can talk for hours. As much as I always thought my mother was a pain and wish she'd shut up, I wish that much more that she could express herself now. Take care.

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  5. Anon, as you may know, my husband died of Alzheimer's, so I know what you're talking about. It is so hard. I know that I am blessed to have had so much of my father for so long. His heart surgery on Tuesday, so I'm praying he comes out of it all right. I wish you all the best with your mom and dad.

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  6. I know your pain is real and I'm sorry for it. At the same time, there is a grass is greener scenario. You have your Dad! And you have for your whole adult life until now. The last time I saw my father I was 20 and he physically attacked me – something which had gone on in our house since I was a toddler, but this time I was an adult and able to call the police. Since my mother died when I was 14, I've lived without parents since I was 20 years old – and actually I lost the only responsible parent at age 14 when I was left to my abusive, neglectful, alcoholic father. Having parents as an adult is a blessing that some of us will never have.

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  7. Anonymous Feb. 12, You are so right. I am so blessed to still have my father and to have a good relationship with him. At my age–and his age–that's rare. I had my mother until I was 50. I'm so sorry you didn't get to have that.

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