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Feb 24, 2012 | Kat Castro

Commentary: Me, My Dad and the Nursing Home



I believe that we are all good at something; that if we pay attention, we all have a calling to do something wonderful with our lives. When I was asked to write this piece, thought for sure it would be easy to write since I have told the story so many times. But when I thought about my dad, his illness, the decisions, the loss and how I came to be at St. James’ House, it occurred to me that I really had no idea where to start.


My father was 48 when I was born, so I expected him to die before my friends’ dads might. I always knew that he was different. My dad could tell me crazy stories “the good ol’ days” and what it meant to be part of the greatest generation. My friends’ dads were just hippies.


At 24, I moved from San Francisco to LA to help care for my father when his health started to decline. Three years later, his kidneys failed and he slipped into a coma.  His was at times, totally debilitating and he couldn’t get up to bathe or eat. He kept the really bad days a secret from me for a while until, without his approval, I moved him out of his apartment and into a nursing facility.


The guilt was overwhelming. The hardest part was seeing just how bad it had gotten for him. My twice weekly visits increased to five days a week and I saw it all. I saw that he really needed help in every aspect of his daily life. I saw his pride go out the window. I saw his anger at losing his independence. I saw the worst side of him and I felt responsible. The sense of obligation was drowning me and it wasn’t helping either one of us.


I was lucky to have found the nursing facility that I did. They talked to me and supported me through the process of seeing my dad’s health fail. The best part was when he started to get better, and they started to hear all of those crazy stories I loved.  When I visited him, I was moved by the relationship he had with his caregivers. He wasn’t just a patient or a customer to them. He was a charming man who loved to flirt and give advice and tell amazing stories – and they ate it up. As his daughter, this meant the world to me and my guilt began to disappear.


He died when he was 81 and it occurred to me that without all of those nurses, nurse’s assistants and activity directors, I would have never made it. On the hard days, they sympathized. On the good days, we celebrated. And then, at the end of his life, we cried.


When I moved back to Houston it was an obvious career choice for me to begin working in a nursing facility.  I had spent most of my 20’s in one; experiencing the ups and downs that go with it and doing what I could to help. I saw the heart, the soul, the passion, the love and the caring involved, so I wanted to be a part of it.


What I always tell people is this: yes, I do this job for my dad. I do this because maybe I could have been a better daughter. But really, I think I do it to give back; to pay it forward for how much those nurses’ assistants, nurses and activity directors loved my dad. I do it because I believe it was put before me to do. I do it because I see my dad in every single one of our residents, every single day. 


Castro became the Activities Director at St. James House in December.