I keep hearing the same thing in circles of my friends about parents getting older. It’s this emotionally confusing time that no one can prepare you for: when your parents begin to need you more than you need them. I know it sounds silly, right? Your parents are bound to get older, just like you continue to age.
Some parents get sick and live their final days being shuttled in and out of hospitals and doctors’ offices. Some parents live well in to their 90’s in a comfortable assisted living home where they play bridge every Tuesday with their equally-as-old buddies.
Everyone’s journey will be different. While I begin to wrap my head around the change from being the child to becoming a caregiver, I’ve gathered some thoughts and some tips on what I have found helps the process.
While my dad’s case is more extreme than most, my family and I have found some structure and stability in staying as organized as possible when it comes to his health.
Here are some things I suggest:
- Medications and Doctors- Even if your parent is in great health, getting their medications and doctor’s information jotted down is extremely important. Things happen in the blink of an eye and you can easily be one step ahead. It’s good to have this information in case you are having to speak on behalf of your parent. Find out what medications they take, how long they have been taking them, how much they take, who their doctors are and their doctor’s contact information.
- Dry-Erase Calendar- When you have a team of people helping provide care, a universal calendar is the best way to keep everyone on track. There are many tools out there for digital calendars, but in my case, my family works better on the old school handwritten type. We keep all my dad’s appointments, medication times and reminders on this calendar, as well as my mom’s appointments so they don’t double book. It’s one place where everyone can manage the day-to-day without constantly having to ask, “when was the next appointment with Dr. Smith?”.
- Filing System- Now this really depends on what you are going through, but this was helpful in my family’s case. With the many different doctors treating my dad’s cancer, we found ourselves drowning in heaps of paperwork. We got organized with an accordion file folder. As we labeled each file and put the stacks of papers disappear I could see the relief in my mom’s eyes. Having some control in a situation where everything else is out of your control can be peaceful, even if it’s a filing system.
Make Room for New Memories
Remember, it’s never going to be the same. You are going to want to go back in time and relive the moments you didn’t even realize were as special as they are now. The dinners and holidays, or long car rides. The moments when things were normal, and everyone was ok. You’ll want to somehow fix everything so you can do those things again.
The trip to that humid beach town that no one had ever been to before, or those few days trapped in an airport. The moments that were full of life. But, as hard as it is, you need to recognize that those moments are gone. And they are memories now. Be grateful for the memories. And embrace the new moments to come. They may be in a hospital room, or in the early morning hours. But try to recognize them, because these will become an addition to the moments you’ll miss once your parent is gone.
Don’t Spend Too Much Time Trying to Fix It
Sometimes you can’t fix the problem. Maybe this is the end of your parent’s journey. Let the doctor’s do their job, and of course stay as involved as you can. But if you bury yourself in trying to find a solution, you are going to miss out on the last precious moments you have. It’s ok to try to fix things, but it can’t be your total focus. You’ll miss out on the moments that you’ll never be able to get back.
Take Time for You
This is hard when you are caught up in the day-to-day of trying to make everything ok for your parent. It’s so important to make sure you are taking time for yourself to digest what’s happening. Your whole life your parents have been taking care of you, and one day it changes. And when that flip happens in life, you need to have time to think about that and what it means. Or maybe you just need time to sit alone with a glass of wine and your favorite John Mayer album.
Whatever it is, try to find that time for yourself. This is a tough one for me. I feel guilty and selfish when I even start to enjoy something. When I’m having a glass of wine with friends, laughing about my friend’s failed Tinder date, or even taking my dog to the dog park. Part of me feels like I shouldn’t be enjoying these moments when my father is so sick. But I have to force those feelings out of my head and just let myself smile, decompress and feel like life is normal (even if just for an hour).
Discuss an Aftercare Plan
Now, this is probably the toughest item on my list, and my family is still trying to tackle this one. What happens if or when your loved one passes? You have to make a lot of decisions on their behalf. Do they want to be buried or cremated? Do they want a funeral or a memorial?
These sort of questions are so hard to ask, but the pain of dealing with them after your loved one is gone is even harder. My brother-in-law who lost both of his parents in the last 5 years told me once his mother died he started to put away money for his father’s funeral, even though his father was still alive. He spent so much time trying to fix his mom’s situation that he wasn’t prepared for her aftercare, and that caused him a great deal of stress when the time came. Though it may seem morbid to save money for a funeral for someone who is still alive, it’s just another way to get ahead and relieve some stress that will come in the days after they pass.
Another thing to think about is a Living Will. There is a great website called Aging with Dignity and they have a program called “5 Wishes”. This program helps you create a Living Will for your loved ones (and yourself, if you want) and asks all the questions you will need answers to. While working on a document like this is heart wrenching, it also tackles the hard stuff ahead of time and gives your loved one a voice that will be heard once they are gone.