By Theresa Peters, of Sparta, Ohio
Submitted to the Ohio Department of Aging's Caregiver Story Project.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. How many people can say that about an experience in their life and actually mean it? It was the best of times because I finally got to have some quality time with my father - I was adopted at age 13 by my stepfather, and my father and I had a tumultuous relationship for 20 years. It was the worst of times because he found out in September of 2003 that he had stage four brain cancer. The hard part was that he was in Texas and I was here in Ohio. So began the journey of becoming a caregiver.
I flew to Texas to be with him during brain surgery so they could remove as much of the cancer as possible. I'm in a state where I don't know my way around and have no one to help me. I was on my own. I was never one to think about doing this. I couldn't even enter a nursing home without becoming very emotional and running out crying. I was staying in a fifth-wheel trailer that my father owned, in a bad section of Fort Worth.
While I was there, my dad told me about his whole life. We were finally bonding. I finally understood him and the way he lived his life. He had a hard life. He lived hard and fast. I wasn't bitter, mad or resentful that he wasn't there for me during my teenage years. I needed to show him that I was going to be there for him, no matter what. I was able to show him compassion from my soul, love that he felt he never experienced in his life. By the grace of God, I was able to do this.
The first few days of radiation were depressing. All the patients were sulky and sad. I had an idea. My daughter's boyfriend was working at a costume place, and was bringing different hats home. The first one was a Don King hairdo. I told my Dad to wear it to radiation. He was reluctant at first and then decided to try it. The next month was quite eventful. Every week, he would wear a different hat: Don King, reindeer antlers that played music and on and on. The patients loved it. The nurses loved it. They took a picture of every hat he wore and put it up in the hallway; it was the wall of shame. The nurses and patients couldn't wait until we came in to see what hat he would be wearing next. Before we knew it, radiation was over. The nurses called me one day and said that the patients were asking about us and if we would be coming back with those hats. I think we made an impression.
We ate out a lot. His favorite place was Red Lobster. We went there for lunch almost every day. While there, I noticed a woman. She sat in the same booth, ordered the same lunch and four glasses of wine with her meal. Her hair was quite ratty. I said to my Dad, "I wonder what her story is." Everyone has a story.
He paused for a few minutes and jokingly said, "I know what her story is. She came here with a man one day for lunch. He excused himself to go to restroom and never came back. She's here every day for lunch, hoping he'll come back." I laughed so hard I almost choked. We laughed about that for months.
Dad died on Aug. 2, a Monday evening. He was cremated. We discussed what he wanted in the end. I was able to honor that request. Trials, there were many, but all said and done, I am glad I had the chance to experience all of it. It made me who I am today. I now provide care as my career. It came naturally. Thanks, Dad, for the memories. I'll never forget you or that experience that defined my life.
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