Who Will Care for Those Who Care?

Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN, ACSM
Your Personal Trainer,
Follow-up article to previous article
Tropical Workout in My Father’s Garden

Death did not come like a thief in the night but rather as a welcome courier on the gentle rain of a Hawaiian dawn.  It was still dark when he took his final breath.  It was still raining.  The little tree frogs, the coquis, in my father’s garden were still chirping but, inside my father’s bedroom, it was still.  It was silent.  He was gone.  He was at rest after his long struggle.

I was there to help my cousin who lived with him.  Hospice of Hilo was there for us.  A friend was there to help, too.  Those last two weeks were the hardest.  We turned him, we propped pillows beside him and behind him.  We examined his skin to make sure there were no pressure sores forming.  We knew the end was near and we took care to keep him as comfortable as we could.  His skin was clear.  His lungs were clear.  He was no longer eating.  Nothing.  Only drops of water on his tongue to soothe his dry mouth.  It wasn’t hydration anymore.  It was comfort, comfort for him and for us because we cared.

Caring for the dying is hard.  It is a work of heart.  It doesn’t matter what it takes.  You do it because you care.  But who cares for those who care?  Care giving is the hardest job in the world but it is also one of the easiest to keep doing because we care.  We give out of care and we keep on giving until we need care ourselves.  We don’t even realize it.  We got tired.  Sometimes we were up all night because he was hurting and he needed us to be there.  We sat with him.  We read to him.  We talked to him. One morning, it took all three of us at 2:00 am to change his sheets, to calm him down, to just be there.

Who will care for those who care?  One day, our friend called her friend who was a massage therapist.  She came and gave each of us a massage, the gift of touch and time.  Another day, my cousin sent me out shopping, to get away, to cleanse my brain, to refresh my thoughts and to come back . . . renewed.  We sent her out to visit a friend and to have some time for herself.  One morning, I got up early when everyone was asleep and went for a run, the gift of time and space, along my dad’s driveway, the linear track in his tropical garden  . . . a workout that helped not only my body but my mind and my soul.  Time away.  Time to heal.  Time to care for myself so I had more to give back.  Our friend cooked for us so that we didn’t have to for a few days after he was gone.

For all you who care for others, whether in the long term or the short, take care of yourselves.  If you know someone who is a caregiver, give the gift of time, or space, or touch or just be there so they can continue to be there with renewed strength.  Give the gift of yourself.  Listen. Lighten. Relieve and share.  There is no greater gift.

My time there is done.  It was a time to remember, a time to reflect, a time to cry.  It was a time to forgive and a time to say “I’m sorry.”  A time to say “I love you” and a time to say “Thank you.”   It was time for what the Hawaiians call “Ho-o-pono-pono,” which means to make it right.  It was time to find peace, to spend time with my father and to ponder awhile on times past.  To lock these last days away for all time—these last days in my father’s house.  In my father’s garden where, in the breaking dawn and gentle rain, the coquis, too, were saying good-bye.

(Please see my article of September 22, 2009 in Women’s Report:  A Tropical Workout in My Father’s Garden.  It is a prelude to this one.)

Yours in fitness,
Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN
Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, ACSM
Certified Personal Trainer, ACSM

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