Paul Coto, who lives in Atlanta with his young son, writes about health and wellness, and personal development and finance. Mr. Cato was a family caregiver to his father for a few years, until his father passed away in 2015. We invited him to share his caregiving experiences—and lessons learned—with all of you.
My father led an interesting and fulfilling life, and was an excellent parent to me and my siblings. He passed away on October 10, 2015 at the age of 84. His death was not unexpected. He experienced a variety of health issues in his later years - he'd had several strokes and heart attacks beginning in his late fifties. As my mother said, he did not age gracefully.
It was during that period that my family shouldered the majority of his care. A nursing home was out of the question - Dad was simply too independent. My Mom provided much of his day-to-day care, but because I worked from home I had the unique opportunity to help her out for extended periods of time.
I went to help out over several summers, was there for all holidays, and spelled my mom on various weekends when she needed to rest. Although my memories of these experiences are fond, there were certainly some ups and downs. Here's a recap of some of them, from the challenges I faced to the better moments of my time with Dad.
One of the best "ups" of my caregiving experience was getting to know my Dad. Even though he raised me, I never really knew the type of person he was when I was a child. By the time I was a teen, my interest in getting to know him was reserved to whether or not he'd let me sleep over at my friend's house on the weekend.
I used this caregiving time to learn about his childhood, his parents, his upbringing, and much more. I eventually discovered things I never would have come to know had I not set aside that time to help with his care.
One of the recommendations from his doctor was that my Dad work on his strength training. Although he was strong as an ox in his younger days, age definitely took its toll. He seemed to thrive on meeting that goal, and after starting out with seven pound barbells, he was eventually able to handle 15 pounders with relative ease. This was just one of the many successes we realized together during his elder years.
My father was a very proud man. However, when his physical faculties began to fail him, it was an enriching experience to see him fight back. Of course, you can never beat back Father Time, but he did his best. That inspired me to make the most of the moments I have left on this Earth, and that inspiration stays with me.
It wasn't easy caring for my Dad. Dealing with his pet peeves, his daily routine, and the bloodletting from his near-constant injuries led to some serious stress. Here's how I dealt with it: I made sure to always set aside alone time in order to focus on myself, not just Dad.
If you're caring for a loved one, it's also crucial that you keep your exercise plan in place, and if you don't have one, get it going. Whether that means pumping iron at the local gym or simply walking around the block, don't lose sight of your physical health while doing your best to maintain someone else's.
As one quick example, my father was on a strict diet. No salt, no high cholesterol, and many more restrictions. However, at 84 years old and with the end so near, how much pressure could I put on him to stick to those guidelines? If you're in this situation, it can be helpful to explain to them that it is their healthcare provider who insists on these rules and not you personally .
When my father died, it stunk - there are no two ways about it. He died with pride, as he would have wished. Of course, you can tie any bow around this event you like, but it's still going to be tough to handle. Always keep that perspective in mind. You may even want to consider enlisting the help of hospice or a professional counselor if you think you're going to struggle with the effects of your loved one's death.
Although every situation is different, if there's one piece of advice that should take precedence over all others, it would be to stay patient. Remember, the world around us goes about 100mph - but that's not the case for the elderly folks in our care. If you're caring for an aging parent, take a step back when you get frustrated or stressed out, and remember that this person will be gone one day. Then, do your best to cherish every minute. In the end, when all is said and done, you'll be glad you did.
There might be some jobs out there better suited to a specific age in life, but caregiving can—and is—done by people from all ages and stages of life.
It might be time to start thinking about being together again. Well-being is not just about exercise and nutrition, but also relationships and emotional sturdiness.
Too much caregiving without support can lead to burnout and other ailments for a family caregiver. Learn how to avoid injury, stress, and maintain well-being.