Living a Life, Leading to Death: Real Talk About Coping With A Sick Parent
My whole life i’ve reveled in being an only child. I’ve had infinite freedom of time, no one cramped my style and when gift time came…it was all me me me. More for me ALWAYS. Many people have told me I’m not a typical only child, which brings me a small sense of joy. Knowing the world doesn’t revolve around you and no one cares about every thing you do and have done, does you well long term because let’s face it - who cares?
Being an only child has its perks but when your parents get sick, the only child is now left to fend for themselves independently. When the inevitable pitfall of sickness takes ahold of your life, the reality check that ensues puts so many unforeseen things under the microscope. Who would have imagined a life where I would have to both emotionally and financially take on the circumstances surrounding my father? At what point did I surpass the point of being the recipient of care? It now seems that I am the one tasked to dish out the care and attention to the very person tasked to do so for ME. It’s a checkmate of the realest kind.
Emotionally, you never know the value of a moment until it is gone.
Not necessarily by intent but mostly by design. In a world where we’re granted access to communication with such ease and carelessness it almost becomes something we take for granted. We expect people to be unaffected by emotional situations and carry on as if things are fine. We don’t allow emotion and time to process realities, after all — who has time for that? We’re quick to give sympathies in a fleeting moment but don’t circle back on the ramifications that inevitably linger on way past the inception date. Time is money and nobody has time for anything that doesn't compliment money and success. When you’re faced with a life and death situation you truly realize how pointless the grind is. You recognize the tentpoles of “success” but spiritually understand that in spiritual wealth, they are essentially worthless. Many preach the sanctity of being kind to others because you don’t know what they are battling with, but in reality can’t be bothered to consider outside of their own scope and needs. When you are faced with situations where these sympathies come into play, the violins ring on a little quicker than you think.
Life is serious, but so many other things walking along on its path, are not.
I’ve been thumbing through old photos and tchotchke bullshit I found post my dads move that floods back memories of my upbringing. I’ll be real — my childhood was messy but my mom always did her best. My parents divorced when I was a toddler. My dad worked odd jobs and my mother, who significantly had her shit more together than him, worked for the United Nations as a secretary and insurance agent. Once they split, my mom was on her own and took on a lot of the physical, financial and emotional burden of raising a kid alone. We had very little money to play with and literally everything i’ve acquired, including my education, came from my own hard work and bank of money. Frugality was our LIFESTYLE and we both pitched in to get it done.
I remember feeling so resentful in college that I couldn’t just do an internship and go to school. I watched peoples parents pay for room, board, education and couldn’t help but feel slighted. I had to work full time to pay rent and get myself through school loans. Eventually I figured out an internship situation that was flex while continuing to work 35+ hours and go to school full time (and sing for a band, for real youth is amazing). My parents divorced when I was 3 and most of my life my mother spent every dime she had to keep me out of poverty, educated and somewhat in the mix of being a kid. Seeing the great lengths she went to provide, I picked up working at 12 years old and never looked back. In high school I worked 3 jobs to buy my first car in cash. I never complained about working because it was never an option, it was the only way I would be able to escape and elevate. When other kids were partying and fucking off, I was working almost every day. Occasionally I’d break free to party, but work was the only freedom tool I had so I did it well. Needless to say, at 34 after working the past 22 years of my life non-stop…i’m fucking tired, physically and emotionally.
I say this to air out that not everyone grows up the same way. I wonder what it would have been like if I had a sibling to help with work, chores and money. I wonder what it would be like to have a father who had means to allow me to not have to work and struggle for years. I wonder what it was like to actually be a kid who had no cares or real concerns. The truth is I’ll never know that reality, but fantasize about it religiously. That TV life sure looks good from a distance.
With my dad falling ill in the past 2 months a lot of these memories and concerns have been drudged up again for me. I find myself worrying about making sure his bills are paid, paying his bills, crying myself stupid, fretting about his health, then picking myself off the floor to do it again and again every day. Because the truth is, I’ll always be that scrappy poor girl who knew she had to work harder, longer and better than everyone else to be on their level, or even surpass it. We can’t determine the hand we’re dealt. All we can do is play it well when our turn comes up. Dealing with a sick and dying parent, in some ways is the ultimate illustration of this idea. You’re never quite ready and the world will never care as much as you do.
Here are a few personal takeaways I developed over the past 2 months since my dad was hospitalized. Some expected, some others a total surprise…
I try not to be mad, but i’m really mad
I was slated to take a trip the week after my dad’s heart attack. Not only had I planned this trip to the UK and Berlin with friends for months, but it was a trip I’d been looking to take for at least 5 years and finally was excited at the prospect of doing it. Additionally, i’ve been working a ton since my move back to NYC from LA and needed some time off to unplug desperately. Sadly, the world had other plans for me.
I keep cycling through anger and anguish, settling back on anger over and over again. After a lifetime of missteps and madness with my dad, here I am continuing to pay for it even now. It’s easy to be compassionate when extreme circumstances take hold, but it is only human to also feel anger. I’m learning to embrace the anger and turn it into a positive emotion that fuels me.
I’ve lost a lot of my personal creative time + fun time
All those brunch dates, nights out at the club, comedy classes I was so excited to take pre-heart attack are now just things that take away from my dad time. Sure, I could be that asshole and carry on like I don’ have a life to worry about, but I do, so I can’t.
As a person who really values my personal creative time for my sanity, this might be one of my saddest points. I yearn for the days when traveling back and forth to move shit and going to a hospital or rehab center isn’t a built in part of my weekend living. All of those hours of decompression that are so important post a long week have been taken away. No fun, but you gotta do it.
Being an adult means prioritizing my family over everything
There is little time for anything else in my schedule past taking care of my dad and outstanding things surrounding his sickness. I’ve always been close with my family but this has put a vice grip on any free time I once had. Prioritizing is tough but when you have to do it, you get it done.
Hospital Delirium is real + seeing your parent lose consciousness of reality is heartbreaking. It leaves you with a feeling of deep guilt about literally everything.
I work a practically 24 hour job. As much of a blessing as the internet can be, there is no way for me to unplug fully from what I do for a living. As much as we want to step away, videos will still need to be released, tours announced and songs put on on the limitless internet. The sheer digital factor of it makes cutting away early to see my dad of a few hours in the beginning or end of the day actually impossible. Shit needs to get done and no one really cares what is going on in your personal life. I can’t blame them!
The hardest part of that balancing act has been my inability to see my dad more than 2 times a week and be visibly there for him. There have been a few factors that have led to his continued distance (rehab homes closer not accepting him for unknown reasons and time factoring in on the choice, I could write a book about what I have learned) but that distance ultimately creates a window for hospital delirium to sneak in. The first time I heard my dad say something absolutely untrue with the utmost faith in it, I almost lost my mind. Does my dad now have dementia? Did the heart attack make him lose his memory as well? How could I have changed this?
As I started to dive into causes of this sudden new interpretation of reality, it hit me that he was suffering from hospital delirium which seems to get to the elderly who are away from home in hospitals and rehab centers the most. When I identified that one of preventative measures to this was being more present in their daily lives and visiting, my heart was ripped out of my chest. Not only was my dad physically sick, but my daily life was preventing me from helping him heal quicker. I wished that I was rich and didn’t have to spend each day working to make sure I had the security to help him, but that unfortunately is not my reality. In fact, I need to now work harder than ever in the event that I need to financially take over for him.
The very thing that I needed to do to keep helping him financially, was also driving him into madness. I have never felt so much anguish and disappointment in life until I was faced with this ugly truth.
(Great read on hospital delirium here BTW, it’s real: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-dangers-of-hospital-delirium-in-older-people-201111163810)
Time is the most important thing you have
In an instant, it can all be gone. Savor whatever you can without burning out.
No one truly cares about your problems except for a handful of people around you and unfortunately even they, cannot help you
I’ve never really expected much from people but now more than ever i’ve learned we really have our families and ourselves. So many people have offered “help” which I’m thankful for, but the sad truth is there isn’t much they can do. I feel blessed to have the physical help of my boyfriend but also do not want to put my issues and problems on him as well. These types of situations open up a complex cylinder of issues that work hand in hand, ultimately affecting those closest to you.
The fact of the matter is when you’re the only one responsible, you take a bulk of the burden on. You have to be kind to your emotions and check in with yourself to avoid madness.
Setting yourself up for financial freedom and security in your elderly years is probably one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your family
I wish I had this conversation with my dad earlier. We’ve never been the type of family to air out information but knowing a person’s financial standing in their elderly years is an extremely important piece of the puzzle. So much of the financial burden eventually falls on you, especially if you are an only child. What I have come to learn is the importance of a pension, paying into social security and setting yourself up to cover outstanding debts and medical / funeral costs. You need to know the realities of these things. Also health records, doctors, medicines…all these things are necessary should tragedy strike.
Paperwork is also a huge part of this. Have the correct paperwork on hand for the worst case scenario. As awkward as the conversations may be, they are essential parts of aging and facing reality.
Every day is a new day and post attack, I see the world in a different light with each passing moment. I feel grateful to still have this time with my dad no matter how hard it may be. I try to focus on gratitude and forgiveness. All we can aim for in the end, whether its our own life or those closest to us, is to live a life in love. Be present. Value your sanity.
Life is a mad road until it ends.