My Dad

Hello. I lost my Dad a couple of months ago, and I am still racked with grief and some guilt about the circumstances. I am a carer for both my parents, who are well in to their 90s, which isn’t easy but I retired last year in part because of them; although since the beginning of the year we have had professional carers in during the morning and the evening to get them up/ready for bed. My father had been unable to walk since Christmas and I was having to transport him around the apartment in his wheelchair; I was also doing his personal care when the professional carers weren’t around. I was his principle call whenever he needed assistance in any way; although he knows I am a heavy sleeper and tries not to call me during the night, even though he has done so before and I’ve always responded willingly. Briefly, I heard him call my Mother - who is deaf and has Alzheimer’s - one morning three months ago at 3 am. I could tell he might be distressed but decided in my sleepy state that he would call me if he was in trouble. I did hear him mention that he couldn’t stand up, and I guessed he might be trying to use his commode; and I did hear him say other things that should have alerted me. However rather stupidly and to my eternal regret I didn’t get out of bed to investigate further; the result being that he fell. Unfortunately he banged his head which caused some bleeding. I immediately went to his aid, full of remorse at not acting sooner, and realized that I would need to call an ambulance to take him to hospital to get checked out, My Dad was always frightened of going in to hospital and, although he seemed to respond to treatment for the first couple of days, he started to refuse help with eating, drinking and assistance from OTs and physios. Of course, there was nothing we could do to help him as we weren’t allowed to visit and could only communicate via telephone. He subsequently passed away a few weeks later in a nursing home. Although family and friends have been so supportive, and I have spoken to a doctor, I still feel so guilty and distressed that I didn’t act sooner.

Dear Bluey,

First of all I want to say I take my hat off for you, for all that you have done for both your parents. You retired to care for them and from what it sounds, tried to be there for them both day and night. You even helped your dad with personal care if needed. The tasks you took upon yourself is not for the faint hearted and even when you do it out of love, it takes a lot of energy. We are only human, and we cannot be there 100% all the time. It is really sad that your dad had a fall in the night, but please do not let that one moment of ‘what if’ makes you feel guilty for the rest of your life. I am sure he would not want you to feel that burden after all you did. Sometimes we have to admit we are only human and forgive ourselves, even if there is in the eyes of others nothing to forgive ourselves for. My sisters and I looked after our parents, my mum died in her eighties, my dad in his nineties. They were always grateful for whatever we did for them. We were able to be there for them until the end and even though it was hard, I would do it all again.
There was one occasion where when I was on holiday with them and was pushing mum’s wheelchair, I did not notice a hole in the road. The wheelchair tipped over and she fell and hurt herself. She seemed fine, but some time later she got problems with her hand and needed two operations on her elbow. I felt so bad about it, but she never blamed me. It was just an unfortunate event. Both my mum and my mother-in-law had falls at home. When my mother-in-law fell, my brother in law was there, so even if you had got up there is no guarantee you could have stopped your dad from falling. Once your dad was in the hospital, his care was out of your hands. Losing our parents, no matter at what age, is really hard. You still have you mum and I hope that you are getting a lot of support in looking after her. It is not easy to do that and grief for your dad at the same time. My heart goes out to you and I am sending you a big virtual hug.

Dear Jo, thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful reply. I am just trying to take everything a day at a time although I’m still finding it hard to come to terms with my loss and not reacting as quickly as I should to my Dad’s predicament. However I have found great comfort in the message that you wrote, and I’ve read it several times when I’m been feeling a little low to try and give me some perspective. I think what I find so difficult to understand is the feeling of letting him down. As I explained to the doctor, I felt as if I’d cleared 99 hurdles with both my Mum and Dad but somehow fell at the 100th.

Clearing hurdles is a very good description of what we experience when we care for our parents in their old age. I felt like that so many times. It often felt like hitting a brick wall trying to get things done for them. Some health professionals are very caring and helpful, but others don’t seem to care and there is so much red tape. My mother-in-law for example had a ridiculous amount of assessments, and we had to go through the same questions over and over again. I often wondered what it is like for elderlly people who are completely on their own and have no one to speak up for them. Your dad had you and that must have been such a blessing to him.
Its good you were able to talk with the doctor about how you feel. My parents had a very good GP and I always found it helpful to talk with him. I hope that he reassured you that you had done all you could and that as time goes on you can look back at the 99 hurdles you did clear rather than at the 100th and stop feeling that you let him down. I am glad that my words have given you some comfort, Please feel free to message me any time.