Aging Parents- Baby Boomers' Hardest Hurdle
Five Ways of Softening the Blow of Facing the Inevitable
My mother is my best friend. She has weathered all my developmental years with patience and aplomb. We have had our share of emotional battles over the years (never about the important decisions in life), but our foundation has always been steel enforced.
My mother taught me how to love, how to laugh, how to cherish books and learning, how to accept failure, how to celebrate success, how to be independent; in short, how to be the best human being I could be at any one time. I have had a successful life because of the lessons my mother modeled all my life. My father chose to be on the periphery until his untimely death at age 57, but mom never wavers. I owe her everything.
Now my mother, almost 84, is a caretaker for my stepfather who suffers from Dementia at age 85. After almost 50 years of marriage, she is my stepfather’s lifeline, even though it is slowly taking her down via stress and depression. However, like many of our phenomenal parents from the “Greatest Generation,” they still maintain their stoicism (dare I say stubbornness) to remain totally independent when their bodies are saying otherwise. I believe transitioning our elderly parents from independent living to assisted living is my generation’s biggest hurdle. And, for many of us, these grand heroes won’t go gentle into that good night.
In order for me to process this highly stressful time, I wish to share the ways I am trying to make the transition as smooth, if that is even possible, as I can. I know there are many of you out there who are dealing with this issue as well. Like the saying goes, “Misery loves company.” In fact, many of you are dealing with the empty nest syndrome with your own children on top of worrying about your beloved parents. We Boomers are in the ‘sandwich years’- providing for grown children and grandchildren while taking care of elderly parents. Not an easy time by any stretch of the imagination.
Have an Emergency Plan. I live 500 miles from my parents, so I have to rely on other family members to step in quickly before I can be present to take care of an emergency situation and make the big decisions for health care. Thankfully, my brother lives with my folks to be on the frontline of having to call 911 should either one of them need immediate attention. My stepsisters are also on alert to take one parent if the other needs to be hospitalized for any length of time. We have talked about the plan and have emergency numbers available.
Get Your Parents’ Legal Affairs in Order. It took me twenty years of cajoling for my mother to see a lawyer to write up a Living Will. Only after my stepfather began to show signs of Dementia did my mother see the need to get their finances in order. Now, six children won’t have to fight about who does what and who gets what when the time comes to sort everything out legally. My mother is preventing the family from completely falling apart after she is gone. Another way she shows her love.
Research Assisted Living Residences and Plan Accordingly. My mother’s mind is still sharp, but the weight of the stress is taxing her mental acuities. I fear that her forgetfulness will put the house in harm’s way. It’s time to seek alternative living situations. My mother has found several places in her area that would accommodate her husband, but she refuses to leave her home and live with me. As long as her son and husband need her, she won’t budge. Until something drastic happens, I know I can’t get her to leave her home. So, it’s time to assess the funds and get places lined up for when her world comes crashing down around her. Hence, the emergency plan outlined above.
Enlist family and friend support. Because my mother is becoming more and more stubborn and taking her stress out on me (everything I say and do upsets her in some way), I am alerting family members to rally their wagons around our elderly loved ones. I have also gone a step further and am urging these other family members to begin the conversations with my mother about seeking help from professional aides to step in a few times a week to bathe and feed my stepfather. I have discovered that when I suggest this, she feels comfortable enough with me to attack, knowing our love will always stand firm if she resists my suggestions. Be aware enough to acknowledge that you might not be the one to ease your parent or parents into their next transition. I know that if she hears it enough from other others, she will eventually do what is necessary because my mother has always been intelligent and reasonable.
Seek help for yourself; find a place to process your own feelings during this difficult time. I am writing this piece in a Starbuck’s by my mother’s home because I am feeling so helpless to fix her situation. I figured as long as I am processing my feelings, I can share them with others who are going through a similar situation (and there are many of us). I am also talking to friends and professionals who have already gone through this with their parents. Right now, I am spitting into the wind because my mother is standing her ground. However, it helps immensely that I have found others with whom to process my feelings. I am definitely not alone.
In conclusion, losing our parents is surely one of the most profound, painful events of our lives. I know that when my mother passes, no one will ever replace that ‘I would die for you’ kind of love. Even with much preparation to make the end of our parents’ lives potentially less stressful, we will have to resurrect our own lives as fully functioning orphans.