"You are such a chicken," I muttered under my breath as I walked out the door. “What a loser,” I thought as I looked at myself in the car's rear-view mirror.

Needing to take Dad some items, I slipped up to the nursing home during lunch, knowing full well it would be a quick hi and bye as he doesn't like to be interrupted for anything or anybody while he's eating. Sure enough he was enjoying a piece of apple pie and didn't even acknowledge the kiss I planted on his forehead.

For the past two weeks he's been fighting a cold and whether it was the medicine or just being weak, he fell at least once a day for a full week. The staff is really good about letting me know when something happens, although the rule is to call immediately after it happens, regardless of what time it is.

The phone rang at 2:30 in the morning and caller ID said it was the nursing home. This is it, I thought, the phone call I'm dreading. "It's not an emergency," she said as soon as I answered. Dad had fallen out of bed to round out the days of falls, bumps and bruises. He was fine, but it needed to be reported.

I didn't go back to sleep. The next several hours was spent lying in bed, thinking about Dad, and feeling guilty my visits have steadily decreased since he's been in the nursing home. This month marks the third year he hasn't been in his own home, with me as his full-time caretaker.

In the beginning I went to the nursing home every other day, for hours at a time, and now I show up during lunchtime so I can escape quickly.

While talking to the owner of the nursing home the other day I confessed my shortcomings of not visiting Dad like I used to. She reassured me this was normal as I grieve every time I leave him, and who wouldn't want to avoid feeling like that? This helped a little but what she said next gave me more relief than she'll ever know.

She was telling me how Dad was feeling much better and had begun lining the dining room chairs up again after lunch and dinner. "He's one of ours now Sandy," she said. "He's part of our family."

Three years ago this would have sent me into a frenzy, thinking I was the only one who could ever do the job of taking care of Dad. I'm his family, and I was so selfish, I waited too long to give him the care and attention he deserved. I'm lucky he didn't seriously hurt himself while on my watch.

If he remembers anything about his life, before this new family, I hope it's his daughter, who loves him so much, it hurts to see him.

Sandy Turner lives in Independence. Email her at sandydownhome@hotmail.com