Daughters, meet Shay Moser, our first guest Daughter Blogger. Shay has an amazing story to share about how her best friend’s caregiving journey has now motivated her to be ready for when her time arrives. . Thanks, Shay for sharing your heart and awesome writing skills!
Dena, my 44-year-old best friend, is four days younger than me. We both have dark brown hair, dark brown eyes, one sibling, and attended Catholic grade school. We both have families and often gather them for pizza and game night. These family occasions usually culminate with the two of us deep in talk after the kids have wandered off to play and our husbands have drifted off in conversations. And it’s during these times when she’s shared with me the challenges of one of the few things we don’t have in common: being a caregiver.
Her 74-year-old dad is dying from Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, or PSP, which is a rare neurodegenerative disease that is often misdiagnosed. It is an aggressive form of Parkinson’s disease that affects the eyes, ability to walk, memory, the ability to swallow, and speech. I remember our early conversations a few years ago when he first started to show signs something was wrong. Dena would tell me about how he’d lost his manners and patience, and she was worried about leaving her daughter alone with him while he lived at her house. It didn’t add up. Her dad was not himself: the 6-foot-1 retired business owner who embodies tall, dark, handsome, and quiet confidence.
When his vision started to decline, Dena shared a few stories about minor car accidents he had, including running into her brother’s front yard brick fence. She’d get calls from him every hour — every day — and her dad would tell her the same thing with each call, forgetting that they’d spoken several times already.
Dena’s father’s disease has progressed, sending him into assisted living, making him unable to drive, and leaving him dependent on her to help both schedule and transport him to his doctor’s appointments. She regularly consults with his health care providers, pays his bills, and has frequent meetings with the assisted care staff about his decline. She does all of this is in addition to being a wife, mom, running a coaching business, and being the founder and CEO of a nonprofit. I’m having an ah-ha moment right now: My best friend is superwoman.
Unfortunately, Dena isn’t new to the caregiver world. It will be eight years ago on March 26 when Dena’s Mom died at age 62 of pancreatic cancer after a 16-month battle with the disease. She was diagnosed when Dena was eight months pregnant at the end of 2007. She was given a diagnosis of one to four months to live but was put on a new drug through the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) that prolonged her life.
At the time, I lived in Pittsburgh, only seeing glimpses of her mom’s struggle when I visited our native home in Phoenix, Arizona, on short trips and to surprise Dena for her baby shower. But I know Dena struggled when her mom lived with her and as the disease progressed, causing her mom to have severe reactions to the medications. I’ll never forget how Dena told me about having to rub lotion all over her mom’s body to help with the chronic itchiness of her skin. That’s just one of the many duties Dena took on as her mom’s main caregiver. At the same time, she was either pregnant or had a newborn or toddler. Like I wrote earlier, she’s superwoman.
Watching my best friend walk beside her parents during the darkest days of their lives has been an eye-opening experience for me, to say the least. Whereas I’d like to chalk her situation up as “unique,” I’m becoming more aware that it’s not a matter of “if” I’ll walk a similar path with my parents, but “when.”
Thankfully, my mom and dad (ages 72 and 68 respectively) are in good health and leading independent and full lives and I pray this continues for many more years. I realize, though, that living longer carries the heavy price of losing independence and losing independence means more dependence on me.
My goal now is to learn from Dena’s experiences before it’s too late. Like many others, she didn’t know what she didn’t know until her parents got sick. Thankfully, she’s paved a path for me — one of her best friends, her chosen sister, a fellow daughter — to be a prepared caregiver, and I’m grateful for the lost time, energy, and health she’s sacrificed along the way. Dena is way stronger, wiser, and more prepared now than when she was unexpectedly thrown into being a caregiver, but she is still taking one step at a time with her dad.
We’re blessed to have fellow daughters like Dena who have gone before us on the caregiver journey. We never know when our parents will get sick, get hurt, and need our help. The time and situation differs for everyone, but it happens nonetheless. Dena has a brother, but she does most of the caregiving, which is typically the case. In fact, according to a study by the American Sociological Association daughters spend twice the amount of time caring for aging parents as sons. I have a sister who’s currently in nursing school, and she already helps our parents with minor things like taking mom’s garbage out when it piles up and keeping my dad company as his roommate.
Perhaps, you’re an only child who watched your mom take care of your father when he was sick or vice versa, and you realize on some level that you’ll eventually become superwoman or superman but haven’t really taken the time to prepare. Perhaps, you live in another state from your parents, or maybe you’re in their neighborhood, but your siblings are not. In any case, there is much to learn from our fellow daughters and brothers who have gone before us.
Look out for parts two and three of this three-part article over the next few months. Dena has graciously agreed to pass on her superpowers to us by sharing the greatest lessons she’s learned as the primary caregiver for both her mom and dad. Thanks, Dena, for your willingness to share. If you haven’t already – join our growing community today!