When I was a young child, or even a teen and college age, I rarely thought about the future of my parents’ health, should they be blessed with long life. Now, as a fifty-something woman, the care of our parents has been in my daily thoughts for the past two decades. Just as Mama and Daddy wanted what was best for me as a child, Donny and I have always wanted what is best for all of our parents as they have aged. While both of my parents are now gone, we are taking care of Donny’s father, our children’s GrandDaddy. Don had found a small Assisted Living in his hometown of Thomaston, Georgia, and he was really starting to blossom there. However, in mid-March, after becoming very ill with double-pneumonia, we had him brought to our town in an ambulance. He has been in Marietta since March 14, 2015. First in CCU, then in a regular room, and currently in a nearby rehabilitation center to help him regain his strength. Having taken care of my parents with the help of five siblings, Donny and I have noted the greater challenge that has come with him being an only child. We are now on the search for the ideal Assisted Living Home in our area for Don to live.
Everyone has a story when it comes to their aging parents, and I have heard many in the past few years. It is that season of our lives when the tables are turned and we are looking after the welfare of our parents just as they looked after us when we were coming up. We are finding ourselves on college visits paired with geriatric medical appointments, planning weddings coupled with choosing homes for our parents, taking our parents’ keys while sharing our cars with our teens, celebrating grandchildren while taking care of parents.
One of my friend’s Dad is now approaching his mid-nineties, after his wife passed away in late 2013. He is frail and ready to go and yet he tells his daughter, “I don’t know how to get off this planet!” Another parent, a Mom, still lives at home with around the clock care and because of her dementia, is sometimes unkind and delusional. A church girlfriend has had her mother living with her family for the last five years since her father passed away. When I gave her mom a hug on Mother’s Day, she seemed perfectly fine. However, after talking to my friend on the phone, I learned that her mom has become proficient in hiding her dementia, her short-term memory, when she is in public. Like my own Mama, many of my friend’s parents have suffered with cancer and other debilitating illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s and Heart Disease. As I have cared for parents that have passed on and I’m now helping my husband look after his father, I would like to share three tips that have helped me and I hope they will help some of you who are taking care of aging parents or grandparents:
(1) PRAY If you’ve read my “pages from joan” at all, by now, you know that I am a “pray-er”. As I take care of Don, visiting him often, making sure his clothes are clean, looking for his next home, I have found myself sending up arrow prayers more than usual. Prayers like: “Please direct my path.” or “Please order my day Your way.” “Please stretch my time today.” or even simple prayers like Anne Lamott’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. “Help”, “Thanks” and “Wow” are all beneficial prayers. Reaching out to God steadies me and allows me to be an encouragement to my father-in-law.
There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”
(2) BALANCE YOUR TIME Fit in some kind of exercise, walk the dog, take a run, do some yoga poses, play tennis or golf. I have been trying to get to my Bikram Yoga classes more and this really helps me to stay balanced in my thinking. Stay balanced by having some time off for play, recreation, bubble baths, rest, a cup of coffee, glass of wine with a girlfriend or some leisure reading. Take breaks from visiting your loved one. Rotate your visits with other family members or friends.
(3) COMMUNITY-STAY CONNECTED This life was not meant to be lived without others. We all need community and this is especially true when we are looking after our aging loved ones. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be intentional about NOT isolating yourself away from others. Call and share concerns with friends and family. While hanging out in senior communities, take advantage of the wisdom that comes with age. Slow down, actually listen and visit with your loved one and other residents.
Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”