Taking care of an elderly parent in declining health can certainly be challenging. It can also be one of the most memorable and life enriching experiences you can have. Writer Dave Shiflett knows all too well how saddening and difficult it is. But the time he spent caring for his father, who struggled with dementia, helped him learn valuable lessons that shaped him into the person he is today.
He found out: “Even in the sadness of the hopeless decline, my parents–members in good standing of the Greatest Generation-had a few things to teach their baby-boomer offspring about toughness, perseverance, quality of life and, especially, love. We were reminded, vividly, that we are often at our best when life is at its worst.”
In the Wall Street Journal, Shiflett movingly shares his family’s story. His father lived through World War II and experienced the Great Depression first hand, but still managed to have a great sense of humor and be a wonderful father and husband to his wife and three children. Shiflett says his dad was always healthy until he first began having memory problems at age 85. That led his parents to move in with him and his wife.
Shifeltt says what he learned was that “old folks, even when they’re frail, can be very tough.” When his father could no longer bathe himself or would apologize for soiling himself, which he would refer to as creating “the mess”, Schiflett writes, “I said, coolly and out of nowhere, ‘You’re hanging in there.’ It became my go-to phrase whenever he became frustrated and saddened by his decline.”
Yet he says no matter what his parents went through, they continued to value life. He describes their perspective this way: “Life, no matter how hopeless, is to be lived to the final breath.” Even if the daily routine was different, it was still worth it. He ends by writing: “Today, our house echoes with memories of his struggle–echoes that are a sad but strangely beautiful part of our song of life.”
Good for You, Dave Shiflett for sharing your family’s heart wrenching story and acknowledging that “if we hadn’t done what we did, I know that we would regret that decision today.” And not only do you say that “caring for dad makes us better people,” we are the better for reading about your family’s experience.