Good Morning, dear friends!
Today I want to get a little serious with you. No decorating or recipe. Let’s talk about a matter of the heart. Let’s talk about 7 ways to care for an elderly parent…
Do you care for an aging or ailing parent? Most of us will face this at some time during our lives. If you are there right now, my heart is with you. If you aren’t, the day is coming and everything you do now will prepare you for that day.
My husband and I were at this place a few years ago. Both of his parents were well up in years, and shortly after it was apparent that his mother suffered from severe dementia, my mother was suddenly and shockingly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Two of my husband’s brothers were in a position to become the primary caretakers of his mom and dad, while my husband made the 4 hour drive as many weekends as he could to help share the load. My dad, brother and I looked after my mom. At least one family member accompanied them to nearly every doctor’s appointment and chemo treatment.
Was it hard? Yes. Was it the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done? Definitely.
Mother took a bad fall right before Christmas the year her cancer was diagnosed. She was in the hospital for 3 days leading up to Christmas Eve. Even before this, I had stayed nights with her in the hospital, as we knew she didn’t want to stay alone, and I knew my dad would not get any rest if he stayed. So this time, I spent those days leading up to Christmas in the hospital with my mom, while my husband was away with his brothers and his mother who was near death. It was just before midnight on Christmas Eve when my husband called my cellphone to tell me that his mother was gone. It was dark in the room of course, and my mom heard me talking and roused to ask if I was OK. I said ‘yes’ and didn’t want to tell her until morning so she could get a good night’s sleep – well, as good as you can get in the hospital.
Of course, I was heartbroken for my husband, and myself too, really. The family postponed services for my mother-in-law until after Christmas. My mom left the hospital later on Christmas Eve, and my husband came home briefly and was able to spend Christmas day at home with us. Then the next day we made the trip to his hometown and all that was to follow.
I wish I could say that things got better in the new year. My mother’s life was extended through prayer and a clinical trial, but by the end of the next year we knew that the days were short. There were other hospital stays and long days of chemo and tests at the cancer center. Her chemo day was Tuesday, which just happened to be my day off at my design job (totally not a coincidence). So I told her that I would write a book and instead of titling it ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’, I would call it ‘Tuesdays with Mommy’.
We talked, we laughed, we cried our way through those days. They were precious. We had deep conversations – about life and love and family. We talked about the good old days and our growing family. They talked about their great-grandchildren and how much they loved them. God gave my mom a heart for children, and she loved her grands as much as her children, and her greats just as much as her grands!
We talked a lot about the mystery of love; about how you wonder when you have your own child if you could possibly love another as much as the one, or two, or however many. Then when grand kids come, how could you possibly love them as much as the parents? Then the greats… well, you get it. That’s exactly why it’s a mystery… and my folks loved each new generation as though the emotion was a brand new thing! Thank God, we still have my dad, and he still loves those greats – with more of them being added each year!
So what did I learn during these trials by fire? I tell you these things not to toot my own horn, not to hold myself up as any kind of standard. But to express to you how quickly those moments are fleeting. And that you have one shot to get it right. Are there things I’d have done differently? Certainly. But what was very important to me was that my mother knew she was loved no matter what – and to the very end. You know, there is a verse in the Bible (in fact it’s the 5th commandment!) that says,
Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. -Exodus 20:12
So what did I take away from the experiences we’ve had over the past 3+ years?
7 Ways to Care for an Elderly Parent
- Go the extra mile in caring for your elderly parent. They likely made countless sacrifices for you, staying awake with you as a child when you were colicky and sick or waiting up for you when you were a teenaged driver. If you are a parent, then you know full well the sacrifices your own parents made.
- Love well so that you will be well loved. Like most grown children, I very much wanted to please my parents. There was almost nothing I wouldn’t have done for my mother. I knew her love was unconditional, and maybe that made me want to serve her all the more.
- Let them remain the parent. This one isn’t easy, but there will be times when they will tell you what to do. Or demand something be done a certain way. Hopefully, they are nice about it, but it won’t hurt you to just do it (unless it’s harmful) their way. This is called submission, and it really is the true meaning of love. In fact, it is the godly way to live. Which leads to the next…
- Be patient. Oh heavens, this is hard! There may be times you just have to bite your tongue, or remove yourself from the situation for a bit. It can be so overwhelming. But patience is a virtue, as they say, and produces character. Which leads to this one…
- Take time for yourself. You may be overwhelmed, so before you break, take a break! If you have other siblings, call on them. If you have children (grands of the elder), call on them for a few hours. Or bring in home health care, depending upon the illness and situation. You’re no good to anyone if you are over-tired, over-burdened or on a short fuse.
- Take walks down memory lane. Look at old photos. Reminisce about earlier times and old friends. Sort through old family recipes and pull out favorites.
- Take trips and outings, if physically possible! Throw parties and gatherings. We celebrated my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary with a huge event and invited most everyone who touched their lives. We took them on out-of-town trips while my mother was able. We had many family meals and times when all the grands and greats could visit with them. Make as many memories as you can and treat them to as many good times as you can possibly fit in.
I hope you have read something here today that will help you on whatever road you are walking down. The elder-care road isn’t easy. In fact, it can be quite bumpy! But with patience and a willingness to love and serve, you can help your parent finish strong.