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Once a Caregiver, Always a Caregiver
for the Rest of Your Life

By Gema G. Hernàndez

(Page 1 of 2)

The year was 1981, the month was December, and little did I know that I was about to embark on one of the most emotionally charged periods of my life. I was about to become a caregiver, a role that I would play for the next 18 years, a role I didn’t know existed beyond my own child-rearing years.

Up to that point in my life, I had been blessed with healthy children and healthy parents—parents who had helped me drive kids to school, take them to the doctor, or get from the grocery store the much needed gallon of milk for breakfast the next morning.

I was happy and content that morning in December until the news that my father was in the hospital reached me. Like the majority of caregivers, once the diagnosis of renal failure was given and dialysis treatment was begun, I felt the crisis was over. I thought that in a couple of days things would get back to normal, and I could get back to my routine of asking “Papi” or Mami” to baby-sit for me.

Like the majority of caregivers, I didn’t know that, that day, that moment was the “best” moment my father and my mother would have for the rest of their lives. It is not easy to recall all the experiences I have gone through as a caregiver, first for my father, and later for my mother. While my father’s physical condition was his main impediment, my mother, on the other hand, quietly and slowly began to lose her mind.

It is amazing how the challenges of taking care of someone with physical impediments is totally different from the challenges of taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s disease. From my perspective, hers was the more devastating of the two because I began to question my own reality. The other person is presenting a different reality from yours, and you don’t know how to react—whether to be angry, sad, confused or afraid. The role reversal between my parents and me, and even between my children and my parents, began to happen very quickly. At the beginning I didn’t want to take control of their lives, but I had no choice. The difficulty was taking control at the right time, for the right reasons.

I thought my biggest challenge was going to be transportation to and from the dialysis center, and that the “rest” would be done as usual. I truly didn’t know what the “rest” was. I discovered that the “rest” included everything, from bathing, to dressing, to feeding, to moving, to toileting—and not just one time a day, but several times a day.


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