13 August 2007

Woman to Woman: dealing with aging parents

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There are many women who still have one or both parents living. As our parents age and move into their 80s and 90s, they often need a family member to care for them. Are you currently the caregiver for a parent? Perhaps you are the caregiver for a beloved grandparent. What have you observed through this process and how have you worked this caregiving into your family life? What difficulties have you encountered, and how have you resolved them? What has been successful for you?

My husband and I have yet to deal with this, although his parents are currently in their 70s/80s. His father was diagnosed with colon cancer about 11 years ago, and received chemo for a year, but is now in remission. He is relatively healthy for an 81 year old, but the signs of aging are there and each time we see him he seems to have a little less pep in his step. I can tell this wears on dh. If we are not expecting a phone call from his parents, and we receive one, his first question is always "What's wrong?" But for now, our worries are unfounded. And we are grateful that he remains a very lucid, happy man.

Dh's mother, however, shared some thoughts with me from her experiences with caring for her father in his old age. It felt very natural for her to take him into her home. She was always very close to him, and when her mother passed away she knew instantly that she wanted to be his caretaker. It presented it's hardships, like lack of privacy. And he had some annoying habits, like continuosly crossing and uncrossing his legs. She could see it out of the corner of her eye as they sat and read in the quiet evenings. Furthermore, she could hear it, and found it to be very distracting. There were also times when he was impatient with her - wanting to have certain things done right away. And he'd follow her around the house until it got done. She'd sometimes have to find an excuse to shut herself off in her room and take a breather. But overall, he was kind and easy tempered. He enjoyed being around his grandchildren, and they him. She feels they gained a sincere appreciation for him (particularly the quarters he gave them for candy).

One thing she said was very successful was giving him his own space. His bedroom contained his own furniture, brought with him from his previous home. This provided him with both familiarity and comfort. The bedroom was also off limits to her children, so he could have privacy when he desired it. They owned a big leather chair which he loved to sit in during the day, alternately reading and falling asleep. It belonged to her husband, however, and when he got home from work HE wanted to relax in it. Sometimes her father would be asleep in the chair, oblivious to the fact that he was being watched and was expected to move. Other times he was awake, and more than willing to relinquish the comfortable spot to it's owner. But she took him out shopping for his own chair. He chose a recliner that he just loved, and that simple act really made him feel as if he was no longer a guest, but truly a member of their family.

To say everything was perfect would be false. Towards the end, as he got sicker, he'd take his frustrations out on his daughter. He became very hard of hearing, and including him in conversations became increasingly difficult for the both of them. He felt shut out much of the time, and she felt frustrated trying to communicate with him. He was always cold in the winter, and she could not keep him warm enough, no matter how hard she tried. He'd tell her that he didn't want to be there anymore. Eventually she began looking for a good care center, but could not hold back the tears at the thought of leaving him there. So she tried her best to continue to provide him with what he needed. One of her sisters stepped in and cared for him for the final 6 months of his life. This made her so sad, that she couldn't make him happy right up until the end of his life. But she has no regrets.

Providing for your parents is something we each need to be prepared to do, but not something we want to think about. I can't really imagine reaching that point with my parents. My mother passed away a few years ago, but my father is in his early 50s and nowhere near dependent on me for care. In fact I wonder if the thought has even crossed his mind. But, being that I am the oldest, and the only girl, I need to ready myself for the responsibility.

I have had the opportunity to have my brother, 17 years old, live in our home this summer. And it is interesting to me how my mother-in-law's thoughts and experiences parallel my own... right down to it feeling natural, but being difficult, and having no regrets. I've learned a lot about myself in this process. It's definitly been a growth opportunity for both myself and my husband. And in the brief period of time that we have had him in our home, we've changed. For the better.

Please leave a comment and then a link to your post on the topic. Then visit Morning Glory and do the same. Thank you for visiting!


Morning Glory said...

What a tender post! It seems the things learned from your MIL's story were very special. It's a really touching story and I have no doubt that when and if you are faced with the same responsibility, you'll meet it with gentleness and care.

MommyK said...

If it's frustrating for the younger, healthier members of the family, I can't imagine what it must be like for the one who needs the care. My father is 65, and when he is around his grandchildren, he seems so much younger (and yet, they quite often make me feel old LOL!). I enjoyed your post!

Michelle said...

I love the way your write and your use of words. You're right, this isn't something we think about but perhaps we should be more prepared. Thank you for a thought provoking topic.

utmommy said...

I have not had to deal with this yet. I know it will be difficult and I hope and pray I will be able to handle it well when the time comes.

Belladonna said...

You wrote: His bedroom contained his own furniture, brought with him from his previous home. This provided him with both familiarity and comfort.

Stuff like this is SOOO important!

Also speaking of taking him to buy his own easy chair signaling the transition from guest to family member... isn't it true? We all crave our own special space.

Angela said...

Your post will give much inspiration and insights to many facing dealing with aging parents.
The love and consideration in this story was so touching. Thank you for sharing your perspective with your many readers.

elasticwaistbandlady said...

Very timely post. My mom and grandma had to put my grandpa in a nursing home just this past weekend because he has too many problems to allow for simple home care. I also have an 18 year old brother with Down's Syndrome that I had to be honest with my widowes mom when she set up her insurance and guardianship papers that we wouldn't be able to care for him until our own youngest children are a little bit older. She appointed someone else for the meantime.

Since when did life get so sobering?

Karen said...

I can see the loving heart of your mother as she cared for her father. What a blessing she was to him! Even though it became difficult, she persevered and did what she could do. It's a beautiful example of servants heart. Thank you for sharing this.

Amber said...

Sweet post, my dear. This has been on my mind lately. My parents are visiting next week and both are in poor health. I am sure it will be a wake-up for me of their limited mortality.