I know I’m not alone in caring for an aging parent, in my case my almost 82-year-old Dad, a former engineer who was married 54 years to my mother and only now lives on his own.
Turns out, increasing numbers of us are finding ourselves in the role of parent to our own parents. Some of use have nearly raised our own children, while others have never had them but find themselves caring for an aging parent, family member or friend. Surveys put the number at 70% of working adults who are caring for one, or more, aging family member.
Like all of them, I never in a million years thought this was how it would be. My parents were strong and capable people, vibrantly alive and engaged in adding something to this world. My whole life they have been a source of support and (at times unwanted) advice. When sickness came they were able to fight it off with gusto for years before disease got firm hold.
When you reach this point in life you are in for an eye-opening, perspective shifting experience. Put aside what you know of your parent and look at the older version before you now. Life has changed this person, and not in ways they’re in control over or thrilled about. Aging, as my Mom used to say, is not for sissies. She was right.
If I were to sit across a kitchen table (or a bar, your choice), here’s what I’d suggest to anyone going through this most challenging of experiences. Or those watching in horror and hating being a responsible adult.
The list here is in the order I thought of it, not necessarily in the order you need do these things. You may be doing all, some or none of them now. If not, these are the things to think about. In this case, being forewarned is worth the angst and pain the thoughts will give you.
- Have uncomfortable discussions about the will, end of life wishes, DNR and Health Care Proxy, burial/funeral plans before you need to. Write things down. Make sure everyone involved is clear about what the person wants.
- Remember your aging parent once cared for you as a helpless (dare I say, demanding) child, provided for you in times when it was not easy or convenient. Now it’s your turn. If a parent was not all that nurturing (or present) this is your chance to show unconditional love to one who wronged you. Not the easy road.
- Think about how you will want to be treated at that age and do so to your aging parent as long as possible. Just because you’re older does not mean you’re incapable, just slower to remember. Wisdom is there it just takes patience to uncover it.
- Learn all you can about any disease a parent has. Use reliable internet resources to research. Go to appointments. Ask questions. Ask for things to be written (disease names, drugs, procedures) down for you so you can do your own homework later. Keep up to date on the research on aging.
- Find a steady, rock solid support system for yourself. Alcohol or drugs do not count. You need a living, breathing listener who is sympathetic to your plight. Remember, you can’t be any help to anyone if you’re not at your best. Sleep well. Exercise. Laugh. Pray or meditate. Regularly visit a place you love. Connect with others dealing with the same thing.
Researching this post I found a lot of resources out there. Not that it helps with the pain and struggle of every day as you care for that aging parent or family member, watching little bits slip away each day. If there’s any comfort to be had, it might be this, you’re not alone. There are many people just like you, dealing with the chaos and challenges and doing our best, trying our hardest.
Keep in mind too that one of the greatest gifts you can give an aging parent or another older person in your life is time and attention. Make the time to visit. call or email. Ask questions about their own childhood memories or how they remember big news events. Share stories as you remember them and see how much is true. For as much of a burden as an aging parent can sometimes be, they are also an amazing resource, a wonderful companion and the most faithful of friends.