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A bittersweet journey with my parents

The author, Marie Benito, with her father, former Guam Gov. Paul Calvo. Photo courtesy of Marie Benito

By Marie Benito


  (Delivered at the Dementia Care Conference hosted by the University of Guam at the Westin Resort Guam on May 11, 2024. The author is one of the eight children of former Gov. Paul Calvo and former First Lady Rosa Baza Calvo.)


You can say that my dad has been to the mountain. As a former political leader, civic servant and businessman, he has contributed much to his community. His younger days were spent running for political office, serving in community, civic and religious organizations, and working in family businesses.

He was a member of the Elks Lodge, Rotary Club, Guam Jaycees, Young Men’s League of Guam, Knights of Columbus, Holy Name Society, Guam Chamber of Commerce, Civilian Advisory Council Andersen Air Force Base, Republican Inner Circle, Hagatna Restoration and Redevelopment Board, and the Agana Cathedral Choir.

In 1992, he was named “Guam Business News Executive of the Year.” In 2004, he was awarded a Doctorate of Humane Letters by the University of Guam. In 2007, he was inducted into the Guam Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame.

Rosa Baza Calvo

But first and foremost: he is my dad, a father to eight, grandfather to 26 and great-grandfather to more. At any one time, my parents made sure we were bathed or fed. They ensured we were dressed and ready for church or school. They would drop everything to make sure we were in good health, take us to doctor and dental appointments and everything in between. They did what good parents do: take care of their children’s every need.

Growing up with my dad meant listening to him belt out Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett or Paul Anka songs at the top of his lungs and from the top of our staircase each day. It meant saying morning prayers with him on our way to school. It meant attending Sunday mass at 9:30 a.m. each week. It meant long Sunday drives around the island. Stops at our favorite fast-food drive-ins. It meant joining him and my mom on their bed for the rosary recitation each night. It meant having someone to help you when you were sick, or when you needed someone to cast away your fears. It meant knowing you were safe and secure, free from harm.

As a young girl, I remember him as a busy politician and businessman with lots to do and little time to do it in. He was a great mentor and shared much wisdom. I remember him leading our family with a firm hand, but a gentle heart. I remember strong scoldings, particularly with my brothers. But also, gentle pecks on the head and an “I love you.”

He was always busy, but still, I never doubted how much he loved each and every one of us. I always felt secure under his roof and with his guidance. He, alongside my mom, was our first and greatest teacher. He seemed to have it all together.

Fast forward to today: it seems so odd that I would now be “parenting my parents.” Together with my siblings and some professional caregivers, at 90 years, my parents need the same tender love, care and guidance they offered me and my siblings for so many years.

It’s our turn to take on the role of “parent” (dressing them, bathing them, brushing their teeth, putting them to bed, feeding them, calming their fears, taking them to doctor/dental appointments, assisting in business matters, accompanying them to church, making the pain go away, and bringing sunshine and even music into their lives).

I’ve seen my dad and mom through some of the biggest challenges in their lives. But I’ve also been blessed to see the wonderful gifts that accompany aging. Now that life has slowed significantly, I can sit and hold their hand, stroke their head and gently hug them. I’m able to take them for rides around the island, administer the Holy Eucharist, sing songs and remind them of the places and faces they’ve shared with me many, many years ago.

It is bittersweet for sure. It’s painful to see how cognitive impairment has halted their ability to communicate perfectly. It’s hard to see where he has come from and where he is. It’s difficult at times when they can’t be understood. It’s hard to see them revert to child-like ways, showing behaviors that mimic my youngest grandchildren.

But I am so blessed to be able to return the favor of their many years of care, comfort and love provided to me and my siblings. God has been good to them at every stage in their lives. I think he allowed this slow ebbing of dad’s faculties, partly to help my mom and our family cope with the changes.

Now that my mom is heading down the same path, I’m bracing myself knowing it will come with some bittersweet moments, some challenges, but also so many blessings for being able to be a caring parent to my mom and dad.

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