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Caring For Our Aging Parents Without Tearing Up The Family

I have a number of clients right now who are dealing with aging parent issues. Let’s be honest – it isn’t an easy time. On the contrary, it is quite difficult. There are a lot of things that need to be done and a lot of decisions to be made. All of this while grieving the losses associated with parents who are aging. It is a time that often tears families apart. It is important for all involved that you try to fight against fighting with your siblings.

I have been reflecting on how my sisters and I are handling things with our parents. I don’t think that we have the magic formula, but I do believe we have developed a rhythm and understanding over the past 8 years with our parents’ health issues. I have noticed we are growing closer together rather than apart. Because of this, I thought it might be beneficial to reflect on what we’ve learned for all people going through a similar time in life.

First, it is important to understand that we need to juggle our parents’ needs with their dignity. They are still our parents, need to be respected and at the same time cared for and considered. Spend time and listen to them while you can. If you are dealing with dementia issues, hopefully you spent time earlier listening to them. What is important to them must be considered, but let’s face it. The primary concern is their health and safety. In some cases, they just are not able to make decisions any more and we have to do it. It is for their welfare and tough love is sometimes needed.

Second, consider your other siblings. Who is primarily responsible for day-to-day concerns and decisions? It is important for all of the other siblings to respect and defer to the decisions of those in charge. In our family my sister, Julie is responsible for day-to-day issues. Since she is there Jodi (my other sister) and I defer to her judgement. Do we do this perfectly – no. But Jodi and I try diligently to support Julie since she is carrying the majority of the responsibility. That is a lot of stress on one person. If we are constantly challenging their judgement, we are only causing them more stress and that is destructive.

Next, be sure you are doing what you can. Besides supporting your sibling who is there, find out in what other ways you can help support your parents. My sister has delegated things to the other two of us as best she can. I am mostly in charge of money issues and also communicating to other family members about how things are going. Jodi is a bright spot in my parents’ days. When she comes to visit, it is play time with her. Living almost 2,000 miles away, Jodi isn’t able to do as much as she would like. It is important for Julie and I to remember the fact that she can’t be with her parents very often is hard on her. It’s just a different kind of stress. However, Jodi also remembers to honor the fact that Julie, and then me next, carry the most responsibility on decisions and daily care. Jodi never criticizes or second guesses our decisions. She listens and loves. That is one of the greatest gifts of support she can give us.

Also, be considerate of where your parents are cognitively. One of the biggest adjustments we’ve had to make – and the most difficult is to understand where are parents are cognitively. The brain is a complicated organ. It is very hard to understand. We have had to adjust how we relate to our parents so as not to cause more discomfort for them. Continuity and consistency are two things that are very important to people as we age. Being flexible is hard and change is really hard on them. Be considerate and educate yourself on where your parents are at with their brain health. There are experts that are educated to do assessments on cognition and memory. Listen to them and learn. There are some awesome resources. Understand how you can be of aid, not a hinderance to their needs.

Finally, pray for guidance and direction and embrace the special moments you are given. If you are anything like my sisters and I, this is a new territory that we are not educated to navigate. It is all new. Because each person is different, it is imperative that we understand that each person needs different things and these things may change with each passing day. We are novices on elder care. We don’t know how to navigate the decline without relying on experts and the wisdom of those who went before us. It can make a difference when we admit we aren’t prepared and count on those who are. This is a journey and you are needed. Be the blessing that your parents invested in all of your childhood years. It can be a very special time of sharing memories with someone who has loved you your entire life. Meet them where they are and cherish what time you have left. And at all times, remember your siblings are grieving, too.

Posted in Grief, Love, Relationships.

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