I've been caregiving for quite a few years now, most recently to my father for the last 4 years. He has a kind of dementia, though not Alzheimer's. Ultimately what I've concluded is that the tragedy is not that people get old or that they get dementia; the tragedy is that so many elderly people get abandoned by their family. I've been visiting my father mostly daily and have found that in spite of all of his dementia, he is often talking about (when he can manage to get his words out as he is also affected by pretty severe aphasia) spiritual matters and expresses them eloquently in his own simple way. Sometimes it is surprising to me, what he expresses spiritually. It surprises me because he was, professionally, a scientist, and always said that he thought that when we died, that was it, we were just dead. What strikes me is how much of the essence of who he has always been is still there. He's still tender and loving, still wanting to give what he can. Because I've spent so much time in nursing homes, I've gotten to know quite a few people with dementia. I find some of the most deeply meaningful moments with people there, things that are funny, sweet, thoughtful, kind. Unlike Jane Gross, I did have contact with the elderly when I was younger, though neighbors I had and liked; and then in high school the first job that I had waiting tables in what we would now call an independent living facility. I got to see that elderly people are individuals, just like younger people are, and not some undifferentiated gray-haired mass. I would agree with Jane Gross that caregiving a parent does stir up a lot of family issues, things that seemed resolved long ago. And that can be painful. I wouldn't trade this experience, though, of caring for my father, or caring for my mother (she died several years ago), for anything. It's been difficult at times, but I've learned some amazing things along the way.
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