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September 20, 2015

I know it is hard, really hard, to become the parent of your parents. It feels awful, as if you are doing something wrong. I know because I had to do it myself, for their ultimate good. I had to make myself do it, because I knew in my head that it was the right thing to do, even though my emotions were telling me differently.

My mother had cancer and and was living in my brother’s house, receiving hospice care. I had to help give her a bath. I had to take out her dentures (my mother was terribly embarrassed by the fact that she had dentures and she did not want anyone to know). I had to help her get dressed.

When my mother and father in law were living in Bath, New York, and both were suffering from dementia and dementia related problems (starvation, untreated wounds and infection, loss of bowel and bladder control), and we had loaded the car with their suitcases for an extended stay at our house, my mother in law decided that she wasn’t going to go. She sat down in their living room and said “I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going”. My husband was ready to unpack the car, but I knew that if they stayed they would continue to decline and suffer even more. There was no one else willing to help them. I forced myself to say, “You have to get in the car. If you don’t, the state will step in and decide what will happen to you. Is that what you want?” I really did not want the responsibility of taking care of them, but it was the right thing to do. I was not sure if the state would have taken guardianship of them or not, but I said that to persuade my mother in law to realize the gravity of her situation. Her dementia was not as severe as my father in law’s, but she thought she was doing okay even though her leg was rotting off and had to be amputated a few months later. She desperately wanted to be in control and independent even in their grave situation. She told me stories of my father in law falling and injuring himself over and over, of him getting stuck in the bathtub, of him driving the wrong way down the interstate, and yet she wanted to continue living in a house where she had no transportation (she had never learned to drive) and no help. She still thought she was capable and in control. She clearly wasn’t, but it was difficult to become ‘the parent’ and make the wise decisions when my emotions were rebelling.

After my father in law died, and my mother in law was living with us, I came to realize she was not safe to be left at home alone for any length of time, and I had a job that I didn’t want to give up to be at home with her all the time. It was difficult to get her to go to an adult day program. She didn’t like it. She didn’t want to be around all those old people. But it was the least expensive form of supervision for her and it was good for her. She always enjoyed it when I picked her up. To get her there meant having to “trick” her at first. I told her I was going to visit a friend and I did not feel good about leaving her in the car while I went in, so would she come in with me and wait for me? Some days were more of a struggle than others, but ultimately we worked out a system. ITN of the Bluegrass drivers were so good about getting her to get in the car.

With all the long distance relationships, estranged families due to divorce, death and remarriages, elderly family members are even more likely to be suffering without the younger generation stepping up to “do the right thing” by becoming the parents of their parents.

A couple in our church “adopted” an older couple in their neighborhood to help them with all the things people need help with as they age: transportation, shopping, cooking, managing finances, healthcare, protection from scams, home repair and maintenance. I saw that couple in a new light (a heavenly light) after I found out what they were doing.

May God bless you and yours this coming week.

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