“Mom, I’ve had a good life.” I was yelling into the phone so that she could hear me. She had to know now, I didn’t want to wait until I could see her again, face to face.
It was so clear to me, there was an urgency about it. Tell her you’ve had a good life. Tell her they filled your childhood with wonder, and that your memories are good ones and they were good parents. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for that prompting and slowing me down long enough to hear and obey.
I encourage you to not put off what needs saying. It could mean everything to your loved one. They need to know that we are okay; this is so important to aging parents. Especially those who depend on you, to a certain extent, to live on their own.
The term on their own is relative. It could mean your parent’s own home, apartment, assisted living, or even in your home, but not in a nursing home and not with complete reliance on you, the caregiver, to survive.
Independence makes all the difference
Seniors living alone should be involved in their own care, because it fosters a sense of purpose. This facilitates feelings of accomplishment and maintains the very essence of independence for which seniors strive. For many seniors, the goal of independence — with a little help — can be achieved. (The Importance of Independence for Seniors, Confortkeepers.com, 2014)
I remember, only a few months before my dad died from COPD, we helped him buy a new car. He was still driving then. His car was in the repair shop more than it was out, just like he was in the hospital almost more than he was at home. But driving was important to him, so helping him replace the old beater car was important to us.
Driving gave Dad a sense of independence. In the hospital, he didn’t have control of anything. But driving his own car and deciding where to go, that meant everything. He used to say, “Sick at home, or sick out. I’d rather be out.” And my mom loved to be out, so out they went.
When we were kids, driving was often our entertainment. Dad would take us for a drive through the “rich” neighborhood to look at the grand houses and manicured lawns. We were poor, but we never felt like it at that young age, even while looking at those mansions not so far away from where we lived.
At some point, Dad’s illness took away his desire and ability to drive. It wasn’t long after that on one afternoon he said to my mom, “I’m tired,” and went to bed for the last time. Two days later, Dad was in heaven. That was 13 years ago last February. They were together for 50 years.
Don’t Forget to Ask
The ability to make choices throughout the day has a big impact on how you feel about yourself. When you are no longer managing the decisions in your life, you might feel like less of an individual.
Loss of independence can be isolating. Seniors who are isolated often develop feelings of hopelessness and depression, and the negative effects on their mental health can lower their quality of life.
Independence gives seniors a sense of purpose. They have opportunities for achievement, can contribute to the lives of their family, friends, and neighbors, and enjoy activities that they’ve always done. (4 Reasons Independence Is Important for Seniors, Vantageaging.org, 2018)
Since losing Dad, Mom spent those years taking care of herself and my sister Michelle, until she can to live us in 2018.
Mom was 89 at that time. Up until then, she did it all on her own. Then Mom started dealing with health issues. After a heart attack and a few bouts in the hospital and rehab, during which time Michell stayed with my family, we decided it was time for Mom to focus on taking care of herself. That Michelle would remain with us permanently.
Did you notice what I said? We decided. My brother and I decided to take my sister from my mother, where she had been for 53 years. We didn’t think of it that way, of course. And we didn’t think to include Mom in the conversation. We did think.
We discussed moving (more like removing) Michelle with Mom. But, in retrospect, I can see that we just told her. She didn’t have a say. In so many words, we let her know that her life would permanently change again and that she had no control in the situation. This, after a 12-week illness and Mom in a weakened state, didn’t help her recovery. We were moving on, doing what needed doing. It was thoughtless; I know that now.
What she might have heard was, you’re no longer fit to care for your own child, you have no rights in this conversation or decision. We’re taking over. We believed what we decided was best, and still do, but our actions weren’t honoring Mom (Exodus 20:12), they were bossing her.
And, just like that, our roles changed from children to caregivers. This is our experience, maybe your family has gone through something similar with a parent or sibling. It is difficult to navigate in this space of unknown but inevitable change.
We should have noticed the age-related changes several years before, or maybe we did and just denied them. Honestly, we were busy with our own lives. It was easier to put things off than address them, perhaps even prevent bad things from happening.
We were working without a safety net. It’s not an approach I wouldn’t advise today. Inform yourself because no one is going to hand you a booklet.
Sage Minder.com offers valuable advice for maintaining a caring parent-child relationship. It’s a long quote, but I couldn’t decide which parts to leave out. Be sure to check out the full article.
…the reality is, our parents may need us in ways that are very new to us. These changes bring some challenges and dilemas such as:
- A parent’s denial over a physical or mental limitation versus your concern
- Independence versus the need to have help
- Privacy versus the need to check in
The key to handling these changes is acceptance and honesty on both sides and good communication. The adult child needs to be able to speak honestly and frankly about the concerns he or she has related to the parent’s health or situation. The senior needs to accept new limitations as they come, and be able to ask honestly and clearly for help when needed. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to assess the situation together or look for warning signs to determine if more help is needed, because sometimes, both parent and child do not notice the gradual changes taking place. (Role Reversal with an Aging Parent, Sageminder.com, 2020)
Don’t forget, most parents are still concerned about the wellbeing of their adult children, even in this transitional turmoil.
Meeting in the middle
After the move, Mom was sad and concerned. She wasn’t worried about my ability to care for Michelle; although, I took it that way sometimes. She was grieving the perceived loss of one child and the transfer of burden to the others. I feel responsible for that.
Mom wanted to be part of Michelle’s life but didn’t want to interfere. Eventually, we got to the place where Michelle spends the weekends with Mom. No more overnights, though, as Mitch is up frequently.
As a family, we discuss things more now. The initial shock of lifestyle changing events has worn off, and we’ve started sharing concerns and decision-making responsibility. It’s working. We are learning that our role as adult children caregivers is to help Mom with age-related changes, not to do everything for her. That’s not what she needs or wants.
Caregivers go through uncharted territory almost every day. The one thing I know for sure is that I couldn’t do this without Jesus in my life (Philippians 4:13). We are not alone (Deuteronomy 31:8) in this caregiving journey. Our help is only a prayer away (Psalm 121:1).
God is opening my eyes to my mother’s experience and that it could very well be mine one day. So, I’m slowing down and realizing that laundry can wait, but spending time with Mom shouldn’t (Psalm 90:10). That taking care of myself is just as important as taking care of Mom and Michelle, a new concept for me and so important for caregivers. Do take care of yourself, friend.
Sure, life can be heavy sometimes, but I think it’s getting better. Today, I can honestly say, “I’m okay, Mom.”
You can also find me over at AnitaOjeda.com., Inspire Me Mondays Link-up. See you there.
Comfort Keepers: https://www.comfortkeepers.com/info-center/category/senior-independent-living/article/the-importance-of-independence-for-seniors
Sage Minder: https://www.sageminder.com/Caregiving/Relationships/RoleReversal.aspx