Wasn't it just last week you patted Junior on the head, sent that “last one” off to college (on your dime), poured yourself a glass of wine and said, “whew, finally an empty nest!" Then the phone rings and it’s your Mom. “Honey, do you have time to take me to the Doctor next week? He just talks so fast I can’t understand a thing he’s saying.”
Get ready, you are officially the Bologna in the generational sandwich. No, you’re not ready for this. You’re probably still working, making ends meet is more challenging than ever. You've got college tuition payments, retirement savings to think about, and you just joined the gym so you could finally get in shape. Mom and Dad seemed fine at Junior’s high school graduation now all of the sudden they decided to get “old”? It’s so unfair!
If I can offer any comfort – you’re not alone. Your feelings are normal. Through the process of working in senior care and caring for my own parents, I've learned a few things.
So here are...
“Five Lessons I Learned Caring for my Parents.”
1. Be Present. You may want to stick your head in the sand but the fact that your parents are growing older is not going away. The sooner you get knowledgeable, take action steps, and have conversations with them, the better things will be. This is the time you are going to learn things about yourself and your parents. There will be strengths and weaknesses in your family and in yourself that will open your eyes. Be present, whether that means physically, financially, emotionally or all three, in whatever way that you can. Yes, it is important to remember that your first obligation is to your own health and wellness and that of your immediate family; however, that is not a hall pass to turn a blind eye. One thing I know for sure, this is a situation where you won’t get a “do-over.”
If you have children of your own – do not forget they are watching.
2. Make the Decisions. As my parents got older they fought ferociously not to lose their independence. My Mom and Dad both struggled with letting us “help". Now that I've been through it, I know that the smartest thing we did was to make these life changing and difficult decisions as a family. I have seen families torn apart because of the inability to navigate issues concerning housing, finances, inheritance, dementia care, living arrangements, car keys, medical expenses, Medicaid qualification, VA benefits, end of life care, legal documents, family possessions, and funeral arrangements. I could go on, but you can see where I’m going. If your parents are still young enough to have these conversations, then initiate the conversation with your whole family and don’t take “we’ll talk about it later,” for an answer.
3. Ask for Help. No, you will not get a martyr award after Mom or Dad passes. Silently hoping that your brother/sister/husband/wife notices you’ve been the one “doing everything” is an exercise in futility. Enlist the entire family in the decision making and the care taking. If you don’t have family seek out the resources your community offers through your church, government service organizations, support groups, friends and neighbors. These resources are out there, but you must seek them out. Sometimes you just have to say, “I need your help.” There is such power in those four little words. People want to help but don’t know what to do. Make a list of the things that are required to care for Mom and/or Dad and then don’t be afraid to ask.
4. Forgive. This is the most important thing of all. I remember my Mom and Dad both said things that shocked me. They were angry. Not at me – but at time. It’s a cruel robber of our health, home, circumstance, community, youth, friends, and family. We always seem to lash out at those closest to us. Even though mentally I understood where the feelings were coming from, it still hurt. There were many times when I would call my sister, or she would call me to talk me off the ledge. Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for the frustration, the exhaustion, the anger that you will sometimes feel. When you think, “How long will this go on?” Forgive yourself. Forgive your parents, and your family.
5. Let Go. When you have done what you can do - there is no room for guilt, anger, hopelessness, or despair. When you have listened, and shared, and wept and LOVED. Let it go. Life doesn’t guarantee us anything except “the next thing.” My Mom wrote in her testimony to her church family, “Let Go and Let God.” I hold on to that. It gives me peace. Find what allows you to hold on and ultimately “move forward.”
I wish you Peace,