Dear caregivers, I wanted to take a moment to say thank you. I try to thank you as often as I can, but those two words don’t reflect everything I am feeling as I have lived these past two and half years with a father who has aged into dementia. I know it’s a degenerative disease, and it’s a very challenging one. Dear caregivers, thank you for helping us see the positive moments and for being with me and my sister on this difficult, scary, uncertain and benevolent journey with our father.
I know my 90-year-old father is often polite and I know he says thank you sometimes. I also see there are times when he isn’t pleased with you. I’m sorry about that. As you know, dear caregivers, it’s not always easy for him. There are days he doesn’t know who I am; in fact, there are days he doesn’t know who he is. Thankfully, there are also days he tells me stories that I almost forgot, and days when he smiles and sings and plays trivia and answers riddles with me. It’s hard to know what any day might be like, but we keep doing our best to make him happy, comfortable and feel safe. But you know that, dear caregivers.
Thank you, dear caregivers, for going to the trouble of making parties, planning shows, bringing live music to his home, and creating fun, intellectually stimulating and exciting programs that he can attend. He doesn’t remember them, but I’m certain they brighten his day in the moment. Thank you for telling me about what he did and said during those programs, so I can talk to him about it.
He sings along with “My Way” by Frank Sinatra, which always makes us smile. Dear caregivers, thank you for telling me that he also loves “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. I didn’t know that. Thank you for singing with him when I’m not there. Thank you for discovering new songs he loves, and sharing the titles with me, so I can sing those songs with him too.
Dear caregivers, thank you for pushing his wheelchair over to the Friday shiur when the Rabbi comes in to learn a little with the residents before Shabbat. He enjoys when the Rabbi puts Tefillin on his head and on the arm that he can still move. Without you, he wouldn’t even know that the Rabbi was there, and he would miss out on that unique experience each week.
He loves French fries and coke. Dear caregivers, thank you for making sure he gets the foods he enjoys, in addition to making sure he is fed at each meal. Sometimes he falls asleep during the meal or can’t quite get the food into his mouth. Thank you for waking him, chatting with him, and ensuring he eats, even though it takes a long time.
Dear caregivers, I know very well that much of the care he needs is personal in nature. Thank you for making sure he is showered, that his hair is combed and that he is dressed like a mensch. Thank you for making sure he gets a shave in the morning. You have no idea how much he hates the feel of a growing beard on his face. Promise me that if you ever feel like this is all too much for you, you will take a break instead of losing your patience or kindness with my father, as you know he is helpless. Thank you, dear caregivers.
Dear caregivers, thank you for taking care of his medical health, and ensuring he gets the care and medication he needs. Thank you for mixing the Tylenol and other medications into ice cream or applesauce for him. He likes that. Thank you giving him a pad of paper and a pencil so he can feel like he is drawing again. After 85 years as an artist, it’s nice to see him holding the pencil like he used to, even though he can’t generate the masterpieces he painted and drew throughout almost all of his life.
Dear caregivers, thank you for welcoming me when I come into his home. I know that, even with a visit for an hour during any given day, there are many other hours in the day where you are his company. Thank you for telling me stories, sharing happenings, smiling because he was happy, and being honest about his needs. Thank you for helping me when I am there so I can have quality time with my father.
Dear caregivers, thank you for noticing him, and for walking over and saying hi to him when you come into the room. Thank you for asking him how he’s feeling. I know he doesn’t always respond quickly but thank you for waiting until he responds. Thank you for treating him like the incredible human being he is. He deserves that respect.
Dear caregivers, thank you for listening to me when I’m worried about my father. Truly, you know we couldn’t do it without you. You are our heroes. I really don’t know how you do what you do with compassion, respect and a smile on your face each day. The world is made up of all kinds of people, many of whom have power, high-paying jobs or impressive titles. They can’t hold a candle to you, dear caregivers.
Dear caregivers, please always remember that my father is a man who is deeply loved. He is an adored Zadie, he is a talented artist, he was a devoted husband and he was a successful accountant with many friends and admiring colleagues. He is a person who deserves to be treated with dignity and love every day. He depends on you to make sure that he gets to be the best he can be, and so do I.
Dear caregivers, thank you – from me and my father.