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Using My OT Skills to be a Caregiver

Just over a year ago, I lost my father to an agonizing battle with oral cancer. Looking back at all that my dad and I went through in such a short period of time, I often wonder

how I had the strength to handle so much and do it all with a genuine smile so dad would understand that I wanted to do all I could to make his days somewhat comfortable. Prior to his death, I was his “Number 1 Case Manager,” as he called me for a year and a half.

Words can’t express my gratitude for the knowledge and insight I gained in OT school on being a caregiver and death and dying. Never would I have imagined that I would be using all that I learned through these courses in my own personal life at such a young age. At the time of my dad’s diagnosis, I quickly stepped down from my “extra-curricular” roles of being Southeastern District Chair of the Virginia Occupational Therapy Association and being Executive Director of Rebuilding Together Chesapeake. While these roles were important to me, taking care of my dad took precedence and I knew that I would not be effective in those positions, as I had to dedicate my time to my dad’s and my newborn’s needs, as well as my baby on the way.

Gracie Bitgood with her Dad and her older son

Because of my OT background, I was very comfortable with my decisions to step down because life is all about balance. I sincerely thank Virginia Commonwealth University School of Occupational Therapy for enabling me to understand the stages of grieving, the disability experience, and the dying experience. I am forever grateful for the vast amount of knowledge and understanding I gained through my classes on adults and geriatrics that I was “never going to use because I am going to work with kids and not adults.”

While I would never, ever wish my dad’s dying process nor my caregiver position on anyone; the amount of life learning that occurred through this role is just overwhelming at times. And it’s because of my OT foundation that I am able to accept all this learning.

Gracie Bitgood, OTD