Monday, August 15, 2011

Caring For Our Aging Parents

Adult children taking care of aging parents is a road that many of us have already traveled. Some have been on the road for a while, others are just beginning to step into the role of caregiver, and some are realizing that it’s a road they will travel in the future.  Wherever we find ourselves on this time-trodden road, I hope the following LifeLines will be an encouragement.

Here is Linda’s story:

One of my most precious memories is reading to my mom at her bedside during the final year of her life. As her Alzheimer's disease progressed, she lost the abilities to read and, ultimately, to talk. One of the constant joys throughout her life was reading, so when I visited her in the evenings after dinner I would read aloud to her. In fact, I'd read children's books to her -- books I loved as a child or favorite ones I read to my son when he was little -- taking time to share both the words and illustrations with Mom. I have to say, I'm not sure she understood what the words meant, but her eyes would look carefully over the images and the text, sometimes she'd sweep her hand gently across the pages, and often smile at me with a twinkle in her eye. I truly believe this simple but meaningful activity we shared added happiness to her life at that moment, even if she didn't remember our reading time together minutes after we were done. During those special moments, we were deeply engaged in a shared activity that created positive emotions for both of us.

Although my father died in 2005 and my mom in 2009, I am still affected from time to time by this common care giving challenge. It's very hard to stop "should-ing" all over myself. I look back and wish I had made different care giving decisions in certain situations, thinking it may have made things better for my parents in their later years. "What if this? What if that?" It's easy to give ourselves guilt -- caregivers are
experts at doing that! What we're not very good at is remembering that we made the best decisions we could at the time, based on the knowledge we had then. That's the mantra I repeat to myself when the feelings of doubt, guilt and regret arise. A colleague recently remarked, "Anyone who is a family caregiver is an 'everyday hero'," and I have
to agree 100%! If you are actively, hands-on caring for your parents or spouse, your loving commitment should be honored and celebrated. Caregivers need to stop berating themselves with the "should have's" and believe in the choices they make.

Since we lived 3,000 miles apart, initially I was a long-distance sounding board and support to my dad after my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He was her primary caregiver for approximately three years until they moved to my town, when I then took on the role of primary caregiver for both of them. Watching your once independent, active, healthy and strong parents decline is extremely difficult, but I was honored to be by their side and assist them in every way I could. It was a way of giving back (at least in part) for the sacrifices my parents must have made while raising me.

As hard and heartbreaking as it was at times, I wouldn't change the special times we had together for anything! There are incredible joys you can reap from your care giving journey.

My friend, Linda Abbit, is a freelance writer and marketing consultant for the eldercare industry and other businesses that want to improve their online presence. You can read more and/or contact Linda at

This is my story:

 “One mother can take care of seven children, but seven children can’t take care of one mother”.  This was my Mom’s response when I and two of my sisters began the conversation with her that it might be time to consider getting more help for her than we were able to offer. 

Making the decision to admit my Mom into a skilled nursing facility was very difficult.  At this point she had been living with my husband and me for a few years.  Mom was semi-ambulatory, she could walk a few steps with her walker as long as one of us was following close behind, she needed assistance bathing, dressing and going to the bathroom, could not change her colostomy bag (this would be an entire post by itself), she could, however, feed herself and she still, for the most part, had not lost her sense of humor.

What precipitated the decision to move her to a nursing facility was that she kept falling and she would lie in contorted positions until one of us came home.  Medicaid paid for an eight-hour-a-day caregiver, so some one was with her while we were at work.  It was the time between when the caregiver went home and we arrived home from work that became tricky.  At the time, my husband and I had jobs where we often worked more than the usual eight hours.  Invariably, it was during this in-between time that Mom would need to go to the bathroom, somehow manage to get herself stuck between the toilet and the tub and she would have left her pager on her nightstand (this was before cell phones).  And there she would stay, contorted and twisted until one of us came home.  She kept hitting her head on the tile floor and she began to suffer a series of mild strokes.  As she became less ambulatory, we realized she could not be left alone. 

Taking care of her was an absolute joy and an absolute challenge!  Along with a sarcastic sense of humor, my Mom was extremely stubborn (I, of course, am nothing like her).  Were there times when I was completely frustrated and wanted nothing more than to walk out the door?  Yes.  Were there times when I was exhausted from work and did not want to come home to babysit and take care of my mother?  Yes.  Did I not want my mother to take care of me?  Absolutely.  Did I not then feel guilty?  Oh my, big yes to that one.

And yet, I would not have traded a moment of it.  The special, frustrating, pull-my-hair-out, just me and her time was magical.  I guess it’s not too unlike when you give birth:  however painful it might be, once look at your newborn you know it was worth it.

Before she descended into dementia, we were able to heal past hurts.  Admittedly, the healing was not as complete as I would have liked, but it was more than would have happened if I had not stepped up to take care of her.  I am so grateful for the time we had together.

 My Mom died 12 years ago and I miss her every  single day.

I invite you to share your experience of either caring for your parents or your feelings about the anticipation.


John said...

Brought a little tear to my eye. Miss you too Grandma.

Linda Abbit said...


Your story touched my heart deeply! I love your analogy about caregiving and giving birth -- perfect!

I'm honored to share my story with you and your readers. Thank you!

mrkuhl said...

I so remember those days. Being called home from a client dinner or an evening out to help your mom. It always seemed that every medical emergency and every burst colostomy bag happened at three in the morning. How often did we find ourselves waiting for hours in the emergency room for the doctor to decide whether or not to admit her, then stumbling home at 2 or 3 am for a couple hours sleep before we had to be at work?

And yet, through all of that, your mom never lost her wry sense of humor. I'm glad we all had that time together. I'm glad I got to know her as much as I did.

LifeLines said...

John - Since all my photos are still packed, T sent me this one. I love the look on Mom's face.

Linda - I enjoyed your story too. Sounds like you had many special moments with both of your parents.

Peter: I'm glad you got to know my Mom too. I could not have done it without you!