Marriage: Your Aging Parents

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In the last 6 years each of us has lost a parent.  My mom’s was to an aggressive form of cancer at 77, which involved an intense period of two months’ treatments before a quick end; and SJ’s Dad’s was from surgical complications at 90.  As our remaining parents are in their 80s and 90s, they are no longer living in their homes.

Up until about 5 years ago, our parents were all doing well living independently.  We were seeing some signs that they needed more help.  Keeping up big houses and yards was getting overwhelming.  Staying safe and not falling victim to elder crimes was a big concern for our more urban parents. Each medical problem or malady seemed to sap them of their strength and energy.  SJ’s folks are about 10 years older than mine, and I admit to “nagging” him often to get them moved to assisted living, before a catastrophe hit.

A few years after my Mom’s passing, Dad made a decision on his own (no one tells Dad what to do)  to sell his home, and invest in a retirement facility that offered everything from active independent senior living all the way to nursing care and dementia care.  It Image result for aging parentswas the best “gift” he could have given himself, and my sibling and me.  We didn’t have to force the issue, it was his choice, and he had the financial wherewithal to finance this.  It’s peace of mind to know he’s in a safe place, however we are dealing with the stages of this aging process involving declining health and mental capacity, probably a need to stop driving, and a very strong push-back from Dad to move on to the next level of care.  He is out of state and my sib lives nearby. Mostly what I do now is call and visit.

SJ’s parents needed to be coaxed out of their home of 60 years.  It was becoming quite nerve-wracking and time consuming for us, as we needed to come to their aid often; we were constantly worried about them.  His Dad’s health was declining quickly, but MIL was not happy about moving to a retirement place.  SJ and his sibling were awesome in terms of handling the whole move for their parents, from selling the house, packing up and cleaning out 6 decades of stuff, finding the new place, and setting up their cute new senior apartment.  They made it so their parents could move in with everything set up and put away, and no effort for them.  My husband spent week after week dealing with cleaning out their house (he has THE kindest servant heart).  My FIL was appreciative.  We thank God they were settled in their new location when FIL passed (where they were safe, cared for, and fed), and MIL wasn’t in a position to be alone.   Financially, there is a definite limit to their funds in this new arrangement.  They lived in the same town as us (before our move).

Image result for aging parentsThe circle of life truly is interesting. Our parents take care of us as babies and children, and we have to do the same at the end of their lives.  Around the same time we were helping our college kids establish in their dorm rooms, we were setting up the senior “dorm rooms” for our parents.  Some even take their parents into their home, and I am certain there is a golden halo for such folks. It’s the way it’s done in most of the world and before the modern era, it was expected you’d care for your elderly parents.  I know some have spoken of the blessings of multi-generational living  I recall helping out with my great-grandmother at one time when I was a young teen, having to bathe and dress her, and have her talk to me for hours, then turn and ask who I was every few minutes.  It was an around-the-clock task.   I don’t think she was incontinent at the time, but changing adult diapers (I don’t think they existed in the 70s) would be quite hard, as would feeding and other personal care.  I believe our parents didn’t want this, for their dignity and ours, and thus have made arrangements for professional caretakers.

We are among the “fortunate ones” who can afford senior care.  Not everyone can.  And, there are times when the money will run out, and adult children need to help with expenses.  There is a very high likelihood we’ll have to pay for SJ’s mom at some point in the future.

However, even after the move to assisted living, the calls for help kept coming: my computer doesn’t work; I need printer ink. My TV/VCR isn’t working right.  I need postage stamps.  I want to see my old doctor who is an hour away.  I want to go to our old store on the other side of town, because this one isn’t as good.  I need bread, milk and eggs, because we don’t like the breakfast here.   I need to go see the doctor today about this swelling.  The “cries for help” happened several times a week.Image result for honor your parents bible verse

SJ and his sib were answering most of these calls, rushing to their parents for most requests.   I wondered if they felt it was their “penance” for “making” them give up their car and move to assisted living (where there are vans to take them to doctors and stores).  Whatever the reason, it was starting to get intrusive and I wanted SJ to step back and help his parents learn to live in their new environment on a day-to-day basis; or, at the least, tell them to keep a “to-do” list that could be handled with weekly visits.

My husband’s “culture” on parent care is take care of your own.  He did not want me in the decisions or the day-to-day with his parents.  Of course I had a good relationship with them and loved them very much, but they were private people.  The message was loud and clear that my input or opinion wasn’t welcome.  I honored SJ’s views on this, but at times it stung.

The thing about SJ is his servant heart.  He is so loyal and doesn’t hesitate to swoop in to serve and save.  He doesn’t question how it affects him or his life.  He presumes others can be put on hold while he takes care of the squeakiest wheel.  He takes seriously the Biblical commands to honor and obey your parents (BTW, the only command with a promise).  He’s the guy you want as your Related imagebest friend.  I never live in doubt that when I am facing trouble, illness, or injury, he’s there for me.  How can I not love this trait?  It comes down to priorities and the ability to “triage” situations.  (Triage means to assign degrees of urgency to wounded or ill patients).  His blind loyalty can sometimes affect making sound

This was a concern 18 months ago, particularly as we were trying to make a move from our hometown.  From one side of his mouth, SJ would say “sure I want to move” but from the other side of his mouth, it seemed he was saying “I can’t leave.”

Dear SJ

Regarding our parents, we don’t know what the future will bring.  We will never abandon our parents.  My Dad seems like he “needs” no one, he’s financially stable, and he seems to be pushing me away, so for the time being, there’s no need there for active involvement. There may be a time when our parents REALLY need us to step in because they just can no longer manage– their finances, their lives.  To an extent, you’ve done this for your parents, you’ve taken over some decisions (with their “approval).  But currently they are doing OK where they are, and possibly better than they were a year ago.  Their needs are taken care of.  I so admire your servant heart and your devotion to caring for your folks.

You and your sib want to be loyal to your parents, and I know that you are trying to work towards a “plan” on how this looks… but right now I still see you both still “reacting.”  You’re setting up a 24/7 hotline for them to make non-urgent requests of you. It’s building resentments and score keeping.  I wonder why you put them into a very expensive place that offers all sorts of support and service, and you don’t help them/expect them to avail themselves of it.  I don’t know how this should look, and I don’t have the answers.  All I know is that when things are pretty stable now, it just doesn’t seem to make sense that so much of your time is demanded, and it’s very stressful and intrusive on you, your sib, and your spouses.  And this can go on for another 10, 15 years… likely becoming even more demanding of your time and , and possibly money. 

(This is a whole other issue, but have you and sib put this all in a spreadsheet and figured out when your parent’s money runs out, and how much you two potentially will need to supplement in various scenarios?  Seems like a good financial planning thing to do now, because I do believe you will be supporting your parents at some point; and we need that info for our planning).

OUTCOME:   SJ’s responsiveness was part of his kindness.  He was trying to make his folk’s transition easy, and didn’t want to take the “cold turkey” approach.  He gradually began backing off.  He seemed to be hearing my suggestions for his parents to become more independent, and the results were good.  We still don’t have an idea of what this might mean for our budget… I think SJ doesn’t want to consider it until it has to be faced.  And he’ll figure it out, and I’ll just have to suck it up when the time comes.Image result for coping with your difficult older parent

A great help to us is the book “Coping with Your Difficult Older Parent.”  Get it.

My take-aways:

1) We are talking about our own retirement plans and needs.  We don’t want to burden our kids.  We will be able to finance it.  This is good.

2) You take care of your parents.  But you don’t stop taking care of your spouse in the process.

3) I’m married to a loyal, caring and responsible man.  There might be some sacrifices in this when his attention is pulled away to help others. It’s not always easy, fun, or neat. But I know he’ll always be there for me.

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