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What Becomes of the Carer
After her father passed, Clare Kustic struggled to find a new normal, but once she gave herself permission to falter, she finally found stability.

I so vividly remember the moment my role as a carer began—as if it were yesterday. While at my risk analyst job, I received a panicked call from my dad after a routine scan found something abnormal in his lung. That was all it took. One phone call, and everything stopped.

My father and I had spent the previous 10 or so years with minimal contact. While I know he loved my siblings and I very much, he chose to live in a reality very different from ours. He romanticized our childhood, telling stories of when he did nice things for us, when he made us laugh, and when he took care of us. However, he would always gloss over his alcoholism, or the venom he spit at us and my darling mum, or the lack of interest he showed in truly getting to knowing his daughters.

Many people on the outside who knew my dad would not describe him the way I do. He was a completely different person outside of our home. He was a charismatic man, the life of the party, and generally a fun person to be around. But this was never our experience with him.

My sisters and I all left home the second we could and, following our parents’ divorce, we locked away our feelings about our father, choosing only to communicate with him via fortnightly phone calls. 

This shift in the relationship was the healthiest option for us. Some may think us heartless or self-absorbed, but I disagree. This was about self-preservation and taking charge of our own lives. It allowed us to still have a relationship with him. This worked for all parties. He never asked for more, or even wanted more.

Years earlier, my sisters pursued their dreams and left our home state to join our mother who was now living her best life. This left me as the sole family member within driving distance of my dad, and the only one who could become his carer. I never hesitated. It didn’t feel like a choice; it was just the right thing to do. I didn’t consciously realize it for a long time. I took over as his right hand from his first appointment, and there I remained throughout.  


My dad had always been a dramatic storyteller. Never one to let the truth get in the way of a good story, he would read his audience and add flare where appropriate. My siblings and I used to roll our eyes as he would tell the same stories over and over, each time a little different and a little more dramatic. But I think this is the thing we miss the most about him.

Dad was a positive person, always smiling, laughing, and greeting people warmly. This didn’t change during his cancer battle. He never once asked, “Why me?” Instead, he would often say, even in his final days, “I have lived a great life, and I leave a happy man.”

I am grateful for my time as his carer, as it unloaded a lot of residual pain. I also got to meet the version of my dad everyone else talked about and found he was someone I wished I had more of an opportunity to know in my life.

I am a strong believer in remaining present. I welcome each day as a fresh start, a new beginning, a chance to grow.

After his diagnosis, my whole universe became consumed with the needs and demands of my father and his illness. As a planner and an organizer, I appeared to be flourishing by treating his cancer like a project to be managed. I became an overachiever in every aspect of my life, even though I felt like I was on autopilot. I took on more responsibility at work. I increased my training with my fitness coach. I also managed my dad’s day-to-day life, including his doctor and treatment appointments, where I would transcribe everything and inform relatives and close friends of every change. To the outside world, I was calm, collected, and in control—and for the most part, I was. My role as a carer allowed me to channel my grief and sadness into something I have since discovered I am good at, while also healing some deep wounds with my father. 

When dad was placed in hospice, I knew the end was near. Knowing he had around-the-clock care was a blessing. I cannot admire enough the people who work in this industry. Other people said having him in 24-hour care was good because it took some of the pressure off me. While technically true, I could feel something start to shift inside me with the realization that my role was no longer the most vital. I had done my work, and it was time to let the nurses take over. Any carer will tell you the end is the busiest. I was managing him, ensuring I knew what the doctors were doing, and preparing my younger siblings for what was about to come. The one thing I hadn’t anticipated was how I wasn’t ready for this to actually end.

And just as suddenly as it began, my nine-month journey as a carer ended. The moment my dad died, I felt a mixture of emotions. There was sadness for losing my father, a moment I prepared for over several months after we were told there were no more treatment options for his late-stage, small-cell lung cancer. I also felt a sense of relief because his pain was over and I could have my life back. Cancer takes from the carer, too. Not only are you in the front row seat watching your loved one in pain, but you also become an observer in your own life. You let go of the steering wheel, put the car in neutral, and just idle.

Underneath the exterior of an in-control and in-command daughter was a struggling woman losing her sparkle. I often refer to myself as a sparkly person, someone who spreads positivity and presents a welcoming aurora. I spend most of my time in a joyful state, smiling, complimenting others, and getting to know new people. I continued to do this throughout my time as a carer to an almost manic level. Now reflecting on this period, I realize that this was my way of continuing to mask the pain of losing both my father and control of my life. I cried publicly for the first time since he was diagnosed at his funeral. Now, a month after his passing, I am still not sure the full extent of this pain has hit me.  

Immediately after his passing, I felt numb. “That is no longer my dad,” I thought. As callous as it may seem, I began packing his personal items away: folding clothes that will never be worn again, emptying the mini fridge of his favorite food people brought for him, carefully bundling his phone with its charger, all while not feeling anything. I nearly ghosted him from my memory.

After his passing, I threw myself into yet another planning project: managing the perfect funeral for my dad and his estate. This started within an hour of his passing. I went home, took a shower, and went straight to the funeral home where I spoke with precision, free of emotion, and “got the job done.” People called me a “determined woman,” “dragon lady,” and a “woman who knows what she wants.” I explained that my father put me in charge because he knew I could separate my emotions from the job at hand. He knew I would be able to execute the perfect funeral that reflected his vibrant personality—something we talked a lot about during our nine months together. I viewed this work as the final gift I could give him. After the service, many of his friends commented on how much of “Jack” was in the room. I knew he would have loved it.

The day after the funeral was the first time since his death I was alone with no project to manage, and I felt lost. It was also the first time I acknowledged my pain, dropped my guard, and no longer had to be in control. I was broken. My soul no longer spoke the same language as my head. I could no longer relate to the life I had prior to being a carer. To be so vulnerable with yourself and acknowledge that you no longer could be who you thought you were was scary.

I spent a lot of my nine-month period as a carer with feelings of guilt, wanting it to just be over. I didn’t want to lose my father, but I wanted to be back in my own driver’s seat, pursuing my goals and dreams. However, now that I am back in the driver’s seat, it feels like I can’t remember how to drive. In fact, I’m not sure I even remember this car. Caring has fundamentally changed me. The things that were so important before no longer seem to have the same calling they once did. Everyone keeps saying I am just adjusting to my “new normal,” but what do you do when the new normal feels so foreign? 

To be so vulnerable with yourself and acknowledge that you no longer could be who you thought you were was scary.

I am a strong believer in remaining present. I welcome each day as a fresh start, a new beginning, a chance to grow. This had been my mantra prior to my role as a carer, and perhaps the only part of my soul that remained the same after his passing. Adjusting to a new normal is taking a lot longer than I had anticipated, and the project manager in me wants to take on anything and everything in order to feel like I have a purpose in my life. In fact, a lot of people in my support network have suggested something similar: to start doing things and to distract myself so it will slowly go away.

But I still feel anxious. As someone who has suffered through mental illness in the past, I recognize a lot of similarities between grief and depression. Of course, I’m more equipped than I used to be, having spent many years learning my triggers and techniques to remain calm and rational. Distraction is just a mask and something I often used in the past as a crutch. I have to deal with each emotion and feeling as it presents itself. This moment is an opportunity, a chance to redesign, to reinvigorate, to discover a more evolved, compassionate, and joyful version of myself. 

So rather than idling in my mental car, I have started to learn how to drive again. I have started making small turns, reintroducing myself to things that mattered before—like drawing, a hobby that had once meant so much. I have started to take my foot slowly off the brake, taking charge of my responsibilities, including going back to work.

Is my car moving as fast as I’d like? No, but that’s okay. Is my car moving as fast as others would like? Definitely not, but that’s also okay. I continue to remind myself that my feelings are mine. The time it takes my car to hit the speed limit isn’t the same as others. I continue to strive for the best version of myself in my current situation. Not every day is great. In fact, most days aren’t, but I am giving myself permission to be idle, to be kinder to myself, to perhaps use my experience as a carer to steer my car onto a different road, one I had not noticed before.


CLARE KUSTICClare Kustic is a 32-year-old risk analyst from Australia. Clare has a passion for bodybuilding and encouraging self-growth which she documents on her Instagram @siriusbaggins. Clare plans to draw on her experience as a carer as she commences a new career focusing on human-centered design. Photo courtesy of Clare Kustic.

Is my car moving as fast as I’d like? No, but that’s okay. Is my car moving as fast as others would like? Definitely not, but that’s also okay. I continue to remind myself that my feelings are mine. The time it takes my car to hit the speed limit isn’t the same as others. I continue to strive for the best version of myself in my current situation. Not every day is great. In fact, most days aren’t, but I am giving myself permission to be idle, to be kinder to myself, to perhaps use my experience as a carer to steer my car onto a different road, one I had not noticed before.


CLARE KUSTICClare Kustic is a 32-year-old risk analyst from Australia. Clare has a passion for bodybuilding and encouraging self-growth which she documents on her Instagram @siriusbaggins. Clare plans to draw on her experience as a carer as she commences a new career focusing on human-centered design. Photo courtesy of Clare Kustic.

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