. . .
This is different. Of course your parent, your
spouse, your loved one is getting
older. Everybody is getting older. Everybody dies. But this isn't
"everybody." This is your parent, your spouse,
or your loved one.
You're not the only one feeling this way. The
realization that my husband or my wife needs help isn't an
intellectual exercise. It’s a frightening and growing discovery that gnaws at the heart
and begins with self-doubt. Soon after, guilt, panic, frustration and
grief can fight for dominance.
In the case of aging parents, members
of the baby-boomer generation, who crowded playgrounds and classrooms,
work places and housing markets, are facing the undeniable fact that
Mom and Dad are marking their seventieth,
eightieth, or even ninetieth birthdays.
And suddenly—it always seems suddenly—the
people who cared and nurtured and taught and provided are the ones who
need help. Suddenly Mom isn't as independent as she used to be.
Suddenly Dad is letting slide tasks he's been handling faithfully for
more than half a century.
If you're an adult child living near your aging
parent, you probably blame yourself for not noticing the gradual
deterioration. Maybe Mom had a small stroke and fell and stayed on the
kitchen floor all night until a neighbor happened to stop by. Why hadn’t
you dropped in more often? Why did it take something big?
If you live in another part of the country, a visit
back to Dad—a visit you've put off for how long?—can be shocking.
The small and not-so-small changes and problems have added up, and the
spunky, independent person you remember is no longer there. Why didn't
you come sooner? Why didn't you notice the difference when the two of
you spoke by phone? Why wasn't it obvious his letters were more
muddled and arrived less frequently? Why did you take that job so far
No wonder you start to feel panicky. You need to
solve these problems now!
But you can't. In fact, you shouldn't try.
First, you can't solve all the problems now.
Most likely -- except in the case of a catastrophic event -- your
loved one didn’t reach this condition overnight and it will take
time to make changes. There are no quick fixes.
Second, you—singular—shouldn't solve the
problems. If you swoop in and begin giving orders, you may be not so
pleasantly surprised to see that the proud, self-reliant (some might
say stubborn and cantankerous) person you thought gone is not gone
entirely. Not by a long shot.
The more your spouse, your parent, your loved one is involved in finding
solutions to the problems, the more cooperative he or she will be.
More cooperation, less resistance.
And then there's the frustration. Why does it take
a dozen phone calls to find the right agency to deliver the service
your spouse needs? Why do you always feel as if you're either not
doing enough or you're doing too much?
you're caring for an aging parent, why don't you have the energy
or time or money to properly take care of your spouse, your kids, and
In the dead of night, grief wins. There's the icy
realization that your parent, your spouse, your loved one is going to die. As you try to cope and
solve and assist, you can't help feeling this is the beginning of the
end. You can't help the grief you feel because you know someday he or
she will be gone.
You lie there and pray, "Please, God, not yet."
"Not my parent."
"Not my spouse."
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