By Deb DeArmond
“I’m ashamed of you both,” my mother said. She took a sidelong glance at my dad. “Larry, she’s concerned about you. She’s afraid for your safety – and mine. And Deb, there is no reason for you to shout at your dad. It’s simply not acceptable.” She looked at me sternly, something she rarely did. “You both love one other. I want each of you to apologize right now.”
She looked in my direction, clearly indicating I should go first.
“Dad, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful. I love you and I am concerned.” He didn’t look up.
“Well if I had said something I needed to apologize for, I would. But I didn’t, so I don’t have to.” He sounded like a petulant child.
I sighed. That was as close as we were getting to resolution that night. My concern over his driving would once again wait for another time.
At 83, Dad had been involved in three accidents in just the previous six months. One man nearly lost his life, and Dad had been at fault, as he was in the other two. But he refused to stop driving, and I couldn’t simply ground him or take away his keys.
Raising my parents was far more difficult than raising my kids had ever been.
In 1900, there were only four million Americans over the age of 65. By the year 2000, that number exceeded 35 million, and by 2020, almost one in every four U.S. citizens will be a senior citizen. More and more people are faced with the prospect of caring for a parent who is 65 or older without invading the privacy, robbing the autonomy, and destroying the self-worth of their ageing relative. At the same time, the caregivers must preserve their sanity, deal with loss and stress and juggle the demands of eldercare with career, kids, and everyday life.
I was blessed that my parent’s days on this earth were not cut short. They both lived to the age of 84, with seven years separating my father’s death from that of my mother. Having been born late in their life meant that I was assisting seniors very early in mine. My dad turned 65 the year I turned 18.
When my husband and I realized they needed our help, there were no “how-to” books available; The Dummies Guide to Aging Parents, had not yet been written. There were few agencies or organizations to assist us through the maze of issues:
• Finances – are they giving it away carelessly? Is someone taking advantage of them? Will they have enough to pay for their care?
• Health care, Medicare Parts A & B. It’s a foreign language.
• Assisted living, independent assisted living, adult day care, convalescent care, in-home nursing. Huh?
• Recognizing the signs of dementia. Normal forgetfulness or something more?
• Depression in the elderly. How does it begin? What can be done?
And then there are a whole host of other things like living wills, medical power of attorney, and so on. I felt lost on good days and desperate on bad ones.
There are other issues to consider:
• The guilt that accompanies feeling impatient when they are slow or forgetful.
• The friction that occurs between siblings – caregivers and those that are not performing that duty.
• Conflict or resentment over the freedom of, or the criticism from, the non-caregiving siblings about how they are taking care of Mom or Dad
• The shameful awareness that you dread going to see them and the realization that the time spent with them now feels like an obligation.
The good new is that we made it through. My husband and I, my brother and his wife, formed a team that supported my folks as they prepared for the journey from this life to the next. Along the way, we gathered information, gained experience and enlisted allies.
Because this is an issue for so many of our readers, we are adding a new twice monthly feature entitled, What About Mom and Dad? We will explore lots of subjects including the role God asks us to take. There are some great resources available on this topic and we are going to help unearth them for you, our readers and ask you to share the ones you’ve discovered as well. Together, we can do this!
So watch for this new feature the first and third Tuesday of each month. Let us hear from you on this topic. What issues are you facing? How are you doing with the balancing act? It may not be the best of the tasks on your list, but if you are over 50 and your parents are still living, it’s probably there under the heading: “my purpose now”.