Doing the Daughter Thing: Taking Care of Dad

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.