The Ultimate Lesson for Caregivers

My dad was the caregiver to my mom who had cancer for several years. I watched my dads health decline as he worried about my mom practically day and night. My parents were married for 50 years, they knew each other from grade school and were high school sweethearts. Both of my parents were very aware of my involvement with The Elizabeth Dole Foundation and were very proud. Just before my mom died, my dad was completely heart broken, devastated that my mom was dying. He lost his will to live. I haven’t told many people this but on January 23, 2015; my dad tried to commit suicide. I was at his house during the attempt. He consumed an enormous amount of my moms pain medications, thinking he would die in his sleep after he told me he was going to take a nap in his recliner. I noticed my dad started breathing erratically during his sleep and tried to wake him. He wouldn’t wake up so I called 9-1-1. The ambulance came to pick him up and I followed the ambulance to the hospital. While at the hospital, my dads heart stopped and he stopped breathing. My dad turned lifeless in front of me. His face turned blue and his eyes rolled back in his head. I watched helplessly as doctors worked on him.

My heart hurt so bad. I was scared. My dad was my rock. We were close. He was my husbands best friend. I couldn’t believe I was losing my dad right before my very eyes. What I couldn’t believe more was that I would find out that my dad consumed opiates to try to escape his pain and hurt as he watched my mom decline. I was forced to leave the room to wait in the hall. I fell to my knees; sobbing and praying.

Thankfully, doctors were able to resuscitate my dad. The Doctor attending to my dad figured out because of his symptoms, my dad had overdosed. The Doctor gave him a shot to counteract the opiates. I thought the doctor was crazy. There was NO way my dad would take any kind of pills. Turns out, I was wrong. I was in shock; after my dad came to, three days later I was able to talk with him about what happened. He tried peacefully ending his own life. He felt as if he couldn’t go on watching my mom suffer so badly. I was able to get some help lined up for my dad and a pastor in the area started visiting with him and checking in on him. My mom died about 3 months after my dads suicide attempt. My dad was heartbroken at my moms passing, but he really started turning around. My dad spent a lot of time with us after my mom passed away and he was finally looking forward to doing things like participating in a church motorcycle club and planning a trip to the Florida Keys. On November 18, I sent my dad a text message that said we were going to see him the following Wednesday, we were going to spend Thanksgiving with him. He told me we knew we were welcome anytime and it would be good to see us. I didn’t know that would be the last time I’d have communication with my dad. The following day, my brother went over to see him. My brother rang the doorbell and my dad did not answer. My brother called me to see if I had spoken to my dad and immediately I knew my dad was no longer with us. I don’t know how I knew, my gut just told me. I called my dad’s phone he did not answer. I sent him a text he did not answer. I told my brother to go around to my dads bedroom window to see if it was open because my dad always slept with his window open.

My brother looked inside the window and noticed my dad was still in bed from the night before. My dad always woke up early in the morning. We instantly knew my gut was right and that he was no longer with us. My brother called 9-1-1 and confirm that my dad had passed away on November 19, 2015. The week just before Thanksgiving. I had to wonder if my dad had fallen back into a depression and killed himself. I was sick over it. I wondered if I could have done more for him. We found out my dad actually died of a heart attack in the middle of the night while he was sleeping. I am thankful my dad wasn’t in pain when he passed away. That brings me peace knowing that.

Last year was the hardest year of my entire life. As I watched my dad decline because he did not do anything to take care himself, I knew if I did not start taking better care myself I could follow in dad’s footsteps of heart disease and depression if I was not careful. I know he wouldn’t want that. My dad had the philosophy of, “Do as I say not as I do.” I could respect that as he wanted to do better for himself, he just wasn’t strong enough. I however am determined to learn by his “mistakes.” He knew this. My dad often chuckled and called me hard headed and stubborn because I’ve never given up on anything I put my mind to. He would often call me Half-Pint (because I’m so short) and he called me “Under-Dog” on more than one occasion, comparing me to the cartoon character who would swoop in to help protect others who couldn’t help themselves. I remember those fun nicknames; as they help me to keep on keeping on for our military veterans, their caregivers and their families. I have recently started walking to help reduce stress and to lose weight. I’ve done some studying and found out that being exposed to the outdoors in nature at least 30 minutes a day is very healing. I find that very true. You can actually Google and see there’s scientific proof in that statement.

I miss my parents dearly but they’ve taught me many valuable lessons. They’ve taught me about love, true friendship and unconditional love. After my dad overdosed, I was able to talk to him about his feelings of hopelessness, the sadness he was experiencing as he lost his true love. We talked about how he did not know what he would do when my mom passed because for several years, he stopped living his life. He stopped doing things and going places, he stayed home with her all the time. He stopped going to church, he stopped doing things he enjoyed. He was her caregiver 24/7. He did not want that to happen to me. He knew as a caregiver I had trials, but he emphasized the importance of self-care and independence. His words really hit home to me and now more than ever do I realize how important it is to have my individuality. Its important for me to take care of ME so I can be a better well rounded person. I am still searching for things I like to do, for places I like to go and I’m even searching for new friends and new goals – all while being a successful and productive caregiver.

I want to help my fellow military/veteran caregivers find their individuality. Its important not to loose ourselves in this journey. It’s been a long journey from the time Ken came home from war until today. I have learned so much along this journey called life. Sometimes we learn through example, other times we learn by watching the struggles of others. We learn by going through life. We all have to make our own path. We are all responsible for the outcome of our lives. What path will you choose?

I believe I’ve been put in certain situations to share my journey with others in hopes that my lessons will help others. I write my thoughts not for the attention of others, but in hopes that my thoughts… my journey… my stories will help someone else.