If you ask me, one of our biggest challenges as Over Fiftyers is helping our beloved aging parents.
The Kids are Finally Raised
Just when we get our teenagers raised and are maybe even seeing some light at the end of the tuition tunnel, our parents begin to need our help. We love them so dearly, and we are always eager to do it, but, man, there’s a learning curve for sure.
There are Lots of Gears to be Shifted
Number one, it’s just flat out hard to think of our parents as aging. Sure, we see some normal signs of all that goes with getting older, i.e., aches, pains, hair loss and hearing deficiencies. But hey, that’s normal, and they don’t need us to step in and help manage any of that.
Number two, we’ve been instructing children for a long time, and our parents are not our children. Just think about it. We taught our kids a whole lot of what they know. From their ABC’s to managing their money, we passed all manner of informational torches to our offspring through the years. But hey, our parents already know all of that.
Number three, unless we lived under the same roof with our grandparents, we didn’t really see all the things our parents did for them. We were living busy lives, carting kids around, and our parents were selective about “burdening” us with added responsibility. But, hey, they did a good job of navigating through all of that.
Part of the Learning Curve
How many times have you heard someone say that subjects like money management should be taught in school? And they certainly should. Practical life skills should probably be more a part of the school curriculum. However, since we who are over fifty are no longer in school, where do you go to learn the things we need to know to help our aging parents?
The information is out there, but when it hits us that we need it, we can easily feel like the unprepared college graduate who suddenly has to pay his first month’s bills on his own.
How do we approach difficult discussions with our moms and dads about unpleasant topics? How do we encourage them to stay positive at their low points? What do we do when hard decisions need to be made?
It Can Be Rough
My husband was his mother’s youngest child and the only child from her marriage to his dad. His mother was much older when he was born (42) than my mom was when she had me (18). When we got married, there were lots of good years with his mom, and she caused all of us to marvel at her incessant youthful zest for life.
However, in the blink of an eye, things changed.
I have no idea why we didn’t notice. Perhaps it was because we moved a few hours away, didn’t see her quite as often, and were, again, preoccupied with piano lessons and a surprise third baby. We talked to her nearly every day on the phone, but, for whatever reason, we just didn’t see it.
All of sudden, like a springtime tornado that drops down out of the clouds, our situation took on rotating speed and threw us into crisis mode.
We made phone calls and hard decisions. We prayed for guidance and asked for advice. But at the end of the day, we just had to do what we thought was best for our loved one, with no real guarantee that it was right.
The worst part was the dreaded conversation we knew must have with her. I have never seen my husband in such a state of angst as he was the day that his half-brother came over and helped him tell his sweet mother the hard truth.
She could no longer live alone. She needed round-the-clock care.
It Can Also Be Really Good
There are times when a failing memory is a blessing. Had my dear mother-in-law remembered the dreaded conversation of the night before, there’s no way she would have been smiling when we saw her the next day in the new surroundings of her assisted living facility. We couldn’t wait to see how she was doing and could barely breathe until we did.
As soon as my husband got home from work that first day of his mother’s new normal, we loaded our three-year-old into his car seat while the two older kids adjusted their own safety belts, and off we went to the place where their grandmother now lived. We tried hard to keep things light for them, but our hearts were so very heavy. It had been a very long night.
But, the Lord had answered our prayers. She was okay! In fact, she was way better than that.
During her first day, she somehow met another spunky lady whom she was convinced had graduated from her same high school, and they were already the best of friends by the time we arrived. She was smiling. We enjoyed her laughter. Not only that, but she loved the food and was glad to see us.
Relief was all over my sweet husband’s face as he hugged his mom while she sat in her wheelchair. And the tears he shed that night as we snuggled close in the bed? They were happy, cleansing, thankful tears of joy.
Not Every Situation is the Same
My parents’ lives have taken a completely different path. They have played golf and stayed fit all the way into their 70’s and 80’s. Thankfully, some of the hardest parts of this time in their lives have ironed out pretty smoothly. like willing wrinkles on a cotton shirt. What looked like it could be difficult has become a relaxed new normal and a pretty workable Plan B.
My mom worked as a court reporter until she retired at 73. I don’t think she would have stopped working even then had her reporting equipment not gotten so expensive to maintain and upgrade.
She hit lots of golf balls and filled her time with church-going, but some depression started to creep in. Maybe it was a combination of my moving to Austin and her being less busy. Either way, nobody saw it coming. It was just all of a sudden there, and, once again, we found ourselves in a storm-tossed crisis situation.
This time, the decisions were easier, because we were making them together, but eas-ier still isn’t eas-y.
Something That Helps
One thing that really helps when making decisions is this. Nobody knows your parents like you do.
If you find yourself in the shoes of those who’ve already walked this path, try keeping these things in mind:
Decisions don’t need to be made if they don’t match up with what you know about your mom or your dad.
If you just really can’t settle into a difficult decision, put it off a little longer. Pray for clarity, seek advice, and go with your gut.
Try to go to doctor’s appointments with your parents.
Not only does it help to have a second set of eyes and ears, it gives you an extra way to decipher the difference between your lack of objectivity and what a professional can assess.
If a diagnosis feels a little off, get a second opinion.
Don’t be afraid to ask tons of questions and get a second opinion. It could make a world of difference.
Do your own research on their prescribed medication.
When your parent complains of a new symptom, you might be able to dissuade his or her fears just by being aware of possible side effects of the medication they’re taking.
Gently encourage a change that you think might help.
Don’t hesitate to gently encourage a change that might make life easier or better for your parents, and then, if they agree, let them be as involved as they want to be. Some parents would rather let their children completely handle a major transition for them, while others want to be included in discussing the details and determining the outcome.
Certainly, helping aging parents can bring on an uncomfortable mixed bag of emotional challenges. However, a job well done on their behalf can also end up becoming one of our greatest joys.
Encouraging a life filled with intentional adventure, and helping our parents enjoy every day of their very own lives,
Here are a few other posts you might enjoy:
7 Practical Ways to Honor Your Parents