Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Changing of the Guard

As our parents get older, the nature of the relationship between them and us changes. At forty-seven years old, I am still the baby of the family, still the youngest of my four sisters, still the last child to which my mother gave birth. For most of my forty-seven years I have looked to my mother for, well, mothering. When I needed advice or wanted to complain about something, I called her. Even as my own children moved into adulthood, I still depended heavily on my mom to offer guidance as I moved through life.

Then, about seven years ago, I received a phone call from my dad. Like most daughters, I have always idolized my father. He has always known what to do and how to handle things. He's never needed much of anything-- he's just been the strong, silent, capable father figure throughout my life.

One Saturday I had a rare day with nothing going on, and I settled myself on the sofa with a good book and a bowl of popcorn. Then the phone rang. When I answered it, I didn't recognize the voice on the other end as my dad's. He kind of strangled out my name, "Dindy!"

"Yeah," I said, chewing on my popcorn.

"Marty... something's wrong."

I forgot about the popcorn. I could hear someone moaning in the background and, worse, I could hear my dad sobbing. He was crying out my mother's name and asking her if she were all right. She was unable to respond.

I started asking questions and learned that he had come inside and found her standing by the fridge with one arm up in the air, completely unresponsive. As I spoke to him, I flew into the bedroom and changed clothes, preparing to drive hellbent for leather the thirty miles to their house. "Hang up and call 911!" I urged him. "I think she's had a stroke."

As I listened to my father on the phone, along with the incomprehensible moans from my mother, I chafed at the fact that no matter how fast I drove, it would take me at least thirty minutes to get there. My dad, for the first time in my life, seemed helpless, completely incapable of doing anything, I heard him crying out to my mother, could hear his voice choked with tears and fear.

Finally a woman who lives next door to my mother dropped over and, quickly assessing the situation, called 911. By that time I was halfway there, and my dad told me to meet them at the hospital. I drove straight to the hospital emergency room and caught up with my dad at the admitting office. As soon as he saw me, he wrapped me in his arms and cried into my shoulder. The admissions clerk said they had been waiting for me because Dad was too upset to complete the paperwork. Holding my dad’s hand, I sat down beside him and listened carefully to the clerk as she explained each step of the admissions process. In turn, I repeated everything she said to my dad who looked to me for answers, searching my face to see assurance that my mom would be all right. Assurance I couldn’t give him.

Finally we finished with the paperwork and were allowed back to see my mother. Hospital staff moved around the room in smooth routine. For them, this was just another patient, another day- and while they NEVER treated my mother as a number in a bed, I knew that at the very least, they had their treatment pattern honed to a smooth art and were able to shift smoothly through the clockwork gears of occupational therapist, speech therapist, physical therapist, nurse, cardiologist, physician, dietician and a myriad of other specialists and care providers. For the first 48 hours, though, my mother was unresponsive. The few times she was conscious, she was not lucid. Her speech pattern dropped down to those of a three-year-old. “But I don’t want to stay in the hospital!” she would say in a little girl voice. Every time a doctor or care provider came into the room, they would explain what they were doing. Again, I would listen and then my dad would look to me to explain what had just been said. Once I explained it, he would nod and then make a response. I was saying almost the exact same thing the provider said, but somehow Dad couldn’t understand them as well as he could understand me.

My mother slowly gained strength, and her brain slowly started to return. She received excellent care and has made a good recovery. She still has problems sometimes finding the words she wants to say, and she gets stuck in conversational loops and can’t get out of them—she’ll start talking about something and no matter what we say, she will return the conversation back to her topic and repeat it endlessly. She’s also lost her social barriers—when we go places with her she has a tendency to wander off and get involved in discussions with complete strangers who stand looking slightly bemused at this little old lady who has just inserted herself into their conversation.

And my relationship with my parents has changed as well. We are slowly shifting our roles— I realize I can no longer expect them to care for me in the manner in which they used to. My sister and I talk to each other frequently about their condition—“How is Mom this week? Is she lucid? What about Dad? Does he seem okay?” We make arrangements to check on them and try to do it so they won’t know what we are doing. About a year after the stroke, my dad went to Indiana to spend a few days with another sister, leaving my mother behind. He asked Carleen (my sister who lives near me) and I to keep an eye on my mother. We enlisted the help of my daughter Fritha, who was going to school and living near my parents, and between the three of us we managed to work it out so my mom had a visitor every day my dad was gone. Fritha dropped by one day to do her laundry and another day to take my mother to lunch. Carleen dropped by to water the plants and another time to take Mom to dinner. I drove over to go out to lunch. We even managed to get my younger daughter, Jaala, to call my mom one day. Was Mom suspicious about the sudden rush of attention from her daughters and grandchildren? I don’t know, but it gave my dad, and us, some peace of mind.

As a parent, I know that I do not want to be a burden to my children. Further, I know that I do not want them to see me as I saw my mother and father after Mom’s stroke. I am MOM. I take care of them. They don’t take care of me. That is the way it should be. Yet, as a daughter, I am glad that I am able to help my parents in whatever way I can. It is a small price to pay for the life they have given me. And I know that I may not be able to dump all my problems on them any more, but I can still reach out to them for the same unconditional love and acceptance they have always given me. That is one parenting role that will NEVER change.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Caring for a Parent

My father-in-law has lived with us since June last year, just before his 88th birthday. About the same time my 82-year-old mother moved in with my younger sister. This was lucky for my sister and me because we were able to call each other, compare problems and commiserate with each other. Commiserate? Yes, commiserate. Having your parent move in with you is not an easy transition for anyone involved.

Dealing with a parent-child relationship that is changing in dramatic ways is difficult. The parent may have short-term memory problems. Listening to your mother repeat the same joke, tell the same antidote, worry about the same problem once every five minutes of your visit with her is difficult. Having her tell you she is moving back to her house this weekend and having to tell her that her house was sold months ago is terrible. The little look of shock on her face that her house and her possessions are gone, hurts. She was there, she chose what happened, what she kept, what she gave away. She has just forgotten.

Further problems develop when you realize you are not always dealing with an adult mentality, but one who occasionally reverts to a sneaky six-year old. They don’t want to shower or exercise. They only want to eat what they want. Even when you tell them they are diabetic and they aren’t supposed to have the candy they have crammed in their mouth. Or try telling someone with glaucoma, hearing aids that don’t seem to help much and mental spells of confusion why he can’t drive anymore. His answer to your objections, “Well, I’m sure the doctor will tell you I can at the next visit.”

Your parent might be on multiple medications for which you are responsible to see are taken in the right dosage at the proper timing -- and being sure they can’t find the drugs it they remember they have to take their medications. They might not be aware any new television series have been made since The Heat of the Night. They might use the remote to change the TV station every thirty seconds or so. You aggrevate them, even when trying not to. What you do know is that you want them to be with the people who love them and whom they know for as long as they can.

A parent’s care can be a full-time job, and different from taking care of a child who will grow and learn, the path here is only more disability, and eventually, death. It will test your strength and your patience. You will cry. We were lucky our parents remained independent as long as they did. As health problems and memory failure take over their lives, we fall back on the love they gave to us for so many years and the respect they are still due as an adult to see us through.

Their condition is a reminder to enjoy the time we have, to visit family and friends, especially the elders, for as long as we can; to take care of ourselves, exercise and follow the guidelines for good health, and lastly, to not feel guilty about having someone come in stay with your parent because you just have to get away.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


by Mary Andrews

So they’re old and wrinkled and grey, are they? And you’re starting to wonder if they’re just out to get you. You bend over backwards to help them. Despite work and other commitments, you take them places, see that they eat right, make doctor appointments, help keep their place clean—and they fight you every step of the way.

You’re starting to feel like the soccer ball instead of soccer mom. Why don’t our aging parents appreciate how hard this is on us? We’re all in this together aren’t we…well, AREN’T WE? (At this point, you wonder if they’re deaf or ignoring you OR maybe they’re in denial and don’t admit to being deaf yet. It can get complicated.)

Well, for those of you out there in this predicament, I salute you. Hopefully, your children will have more experience navigating these waters when you cross them. Maybe you can work up a wish list for the future while it’s still fresh in your mind. They say that education and forethought is a great equalizer.

I’m willing to bet that there are plenty of support groups if you can find time to do a search. The internet contains many a lifeline. Maybe you should highlight a few that might help you out in a pinch.

There are so many little things that can make a difference for both you and your parents. Anything that can help them remain self sufficient is worth whatever time and money it may cost. It’s hard to give up independence. (Remember how hard you worked to get it in the first place?)

But the worst thing about growing old is the loneliness. When all you have in your day is time, it is difficult to find others to share it. Ask anyone who’s done door-to-door sales about how talkative most of the home bound elderly are when approached. I’ve always found them interesting, and remarkably knowledgeable. But they live in a different time zone—one that does not punch a clock or need to meet a deadline.

Isolation makes pain more wrenching, it can changes perspective in many ways. Do not take lightly the rituals or self imposed scheduling that your parents may demand to keep. These things can help them stay grounded and in control of their own lives. They are important to them, and that matters.

So do what you can for them. Turn your garage into an apartment for them, if you’re able. Change the door knobs to lever-type handles. Make sure they have a self propelled cleaning aids (vacuum, dishwashers, wheeled garbage cans, etc). Encourage them to get out to senior citizens events, to participate in church events, to meet people, to visit with the grandbabies. In the midst of your busy schedule, try to hear them out. Maybe have a weekly game night or picnics. Make time for just visiting with them. If they didn’t do it for you when you were growing up, then now’s your chance to catch up. Believe me, these will be the memories that you will cherish later.

If they live too far away and cannot be relocated, seek out agencies and churches that can help or recommend nursing communities. Stay in contact with them and your parents. Believe it or not, email has turned into quite a blessing for the aged. After we set my mom up with an email account and messaging, we taught her how to use them, and she was able to drop in and talk to us at any time. A whole world opened up, and was not that expensive. Even computer games can be fun, and there are craft sites, medical site, the world was at her fingertips on the web.

Now, for the elders: allow me to remind you that you invested a good part of your life instilling values onto your offspring. This should be your payoff. They can now act as extensions of your body. If your mind is slipping, they will try to help you keep up. They will remind you, prod you, fill out paperwork for you (there is no greater show of love than that—believe Me.), and you should not confuse this with disrespect. Do not lash out at them in your rage against a failing body. It’s nobody’s fault. Time takes us all, sooner or later. What you teach them now, will definitely be remembered when their time comes.

I’m in my 50’s now and every day I get up wondering what body part will fall off next. If life has taught me anything, it is that stress only hastens the deterioration.

If your limbs are cantankerous, your loved ones will help you walk, procure tools to safeguard your way, they will push or roll or heft you to wherever you need to be taken…or they will try to. Don’t blame them for this. Help them. They are doing for you exactly what you did for them when they started out. So don’t forget to say please and thank you, just like you taught them to.

If you are feeling helpless and a bother, if you think you have nothing left to offer them but bills and pain, slap yourself in the face a couple and times and listen up. Life is hard for everybody, and perspective is everything—always has been. If someone loves you enough to care for you, then you should respect them enough to allow it and appreciate it.

Never forget that real love allows people to cry together. Once that has been done, everybody can get on with facing things together. It is important to communicate, not just talk. Forever can end tomorrow, but time just keeps going on.

The blame game is what children do. Adults learn to handle responsibility, and then we reap what we have sown and have to fix it or endure it. Life is hard, but it’s not over until it’s over, so don’t waste it.

There are so many scenarios that can play out when dealing with the aged. It’s difficult to address the topic thoroughly. Please feel free to add any tips, websites, or suggestions in the comments section below. We’re all in this together, and every little bit helps.

Til next time,
Mary Andrews

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Dealing With a Older Parent

We are dealing with this right now. It's been coming on in stages. Jeff's mom had dementia. It had become steadily worse over the past year and a-half. We knew when we visited last year that changes were required.

Last November Jeff's mom fell...again...his dad was unable to lift her up. I should say that Jeff's mom was 87 at the time and his dad 89. Jeff's dad did call 911 and they took hs mom to the E.R.

Jeff took off from work and went there. Jeff's parents are in Oregon and we are in CA. He has an older sister in Oregon, but her mental and physical health isn't all that great either.

While Jeff was there he moved his mom to a care home and his dad into assisted care. His dad put up a fuss, but at last agreed.

His mom could only be in the care home for a month, so we knew we would have to find a home for her that would take dementia patients and where she and his dad could be together.

On December 12, Jeff's mom passed away. He was in Spain at the time. He knew there was a chance it could happen. It was still a shock for me to get the call from his sister. I knew by the tone of her voice what had happened. I just said, "tell me."

There is a eight hour difference in time between us and Spain. I thought of calling Jeff that night, but instead decided to wait until morning...night is the worst time to receive such devastating news.

At around six o'clock our time I got a call from Jeff's cousin. They live closer to his parents and had been helping them out...why is another story. I'll get into that later in a different post. Anyway this fool called to ask me if I had spoken to Jeff yet. I said no, I was waiting for it to be morning there, and then he tells me he sent Jeff an email to the office in Spain, telling him his mom had passed away. An email! Can you believe it? I was furious. I hung up and called Jeff right away. No way was I going to let him read on a email that his mom had passed away.

He was stunned of course and heartsick. The holidays can be rough and this did not help.

I am so glad we had his father already in assisted care. He went through the memorial alright. But called us all of the time out of loniliness. He and Jeff's mom had been married for over sixty years. Jeff''s sister has a long history of conflict with her dad. After her mother passed, she decided he couldn't take the stress and dropped it all in Jeff's lap.

That's still another story.

Jeff's dad has decided to move closer to us. That will happen in June. I'll write more of what has happened in the past months with my next post.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Dealing With An Older Parent

Welcome to this month's theme on Branches of Life:


We welcome you to leave your own comments and let us know some of the hardships, methods of dealing with an older parent, you have had to endure.

I've been blessed to have parents who age gracefully, never complaining about aches and pains, actually they laugh it off. However, dad has been diagnosed with cancer and has been given only three months to live, which brings us to June 2007. This in itself is very traumatizing to a child, regardless of the age. It's human nature, yes, to live and die, but we're never mentally prepared to let go of our parents whom we love so much.

He is my best friend and writing motivator. The hardest part is living so far away from them. They live in Greece and I'm in Canada. My sister is living there and has had to take the full force of seeing him deteriorate before her eyes.

To see a man who has always been a strong person, a caring person, succumb to cancer is nothing I would wish on anyone.

Yet, he manages, according to my sister, to continue with his humor at times when not in pain.

I attribute this characteristic to my mother and to their loving relationship they've had for over 50 years. It takes two to tango and make a go out of a marriage, and my parents have had a marriage I envy. There hasn't been a day that has passed that these two lovebirds don't act like honeymooners.

The mental anguish, however, knowing time is approaching when dad will not be here is very, very hard on me. I'm only hoping to arrive in Greece in time and see him one last time, feel his warmth radiate within me with his smile, and tell him something he already knows, "I love you, dad."

Lea Schizas