Recently, a good friend of mine had a day she just had to laugh about. Her parents are aging rapidly and have lost a little of their short-term memory. Her father asked her to drive to the nearby city (25 minute drive) to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy. When she got there, they had no record of it. She tried to reach her dad to ask him about it. When she did, he told her that the doctor had to call it in. So she waited around and did some shopping and then went back to the pharmacy. They still had nothing. She tried to reach her father again and found that he actually had the prescription at his house. She drove all the way back, picked up the prescription, and returned to the pharmacy with it. They couldn’t fill it because they had a question. When she tried to call her father and ask him, he had turned his phone off. Once again, she drove home to talk to him, at which point he snapped at her for not having the meds he needed. Such scenes are happening more often for her as it may with each of us at some point.
If we are lucky, we will have a few calm years between parenting our own children and caring for our aging parents. We need to enjoy them. But we also need to hone our sense of humor to deal with what is ahead.
It is a difficult thing to see your parents, particularly if they have become dear friends and confidants, begin to lose their vigor and recollection. During that time between kids and caring for them, when the gap between our ages diminishes, we often become bosom buddies, laughing about the past, commiserating about raising children, and taking the effects of aging in stride.
It is when that communication begins to break down that we run into trouble. We miss the intimate conversations and, to top it off, we now have to do things for them they can no longer do for themselves. It is easy to become depressed, resentful or frustrated.
Stop. Remember your own childhood and the scrapes they saw you through. Then move on and get busy. Here are some other tips when caring for aging parents.
Here are some strategies on coping with what’s ahead:
Make a plan
T-E-M-P-O . T
In formulating a plan with your parents, Dale Susan Edmonds, an ordained minister, has some great ideas on her blog, Talk Early, Talk Often. She suggests using T-E-M-P-O . Time is of the essence. Get information while your parents are still articulate enough to share their wishes with you. Things like living wills, power of attorney and do not resuscitate orders. Experience will make the conversations run smoother. Share your own experiences with making plans or talk about the experiences of others. This takes the focus off of them. Motivation should be love and concern and not fear, anger or frustration. Place is important. Don’t try to have these challenging conversations at a family gathering where there is chaos. Choose the appropriate setting when you have time and are not distracted. And, finally, Outcome. Have an outcome in mind, a list of details that need clarifying so you can cross them off your list and enjoy the rest of your time with them.
You may have to exercise more patience than you’ve ever had to muster up. Repeating yourself. Reminding them to do basic functions like eating and bathing. Driving to run errands. Making appointments. Bookkeeping. Paying bills. All of these things you once did for your children, you are now doing for the people who raised you. This can become disheartening. Pray for patience and guidance and love them for what they gave you.
When I was caring for my grandmother, Rosetta, during her Parkinson’s disease, she wound up in the hospital with pneumonia. I came in to feed her meals. One time when I lifted her from the bed to put her in her chair, she tooted. With an extremely serious face, she looked at me and said, “Becky Lyn, shame on you!” We both howled. Finding the things you share in common that you can do absolutely nothing about because they are part of the aging process can be a great source of stand-up material that will keep you all in stitches. You might as well laugh.
Utilize other family members. Find outside resources and pools of information. Read. Study. Understand. Talk to doctors. And most of all, take care of yourself. All the laughing and goofing off won’t help enough if you are rundown.
One last tip. This time is difficult for them, as well. The last thing any human being wants is to be a burden on anyone, particularly on family. They may be frustrated, discouraged and disillusioned. Be there to hold their hand, and don’t take attacks personally. They are not personal.
God’s blessings will be upon you and never be afraid to draw on the power of heaven when dealing with this difficult time of your lives. Cleaning our parents, feeding them, staying up and listening to them is not a chore. It is a labor of love, and we need to remember when they did the same for us.