The Blessings and Struggles of Being a Caregiver to Senior Parents
As I look back on the past nine years of caregiving for both of my parents, I can easily identify the struggles and blessings. Of course, it is much easier for me now because I only have Mom to care for.
Dad passed away January 9, 2017
It has taken me 6 months to not only clean up paperwork, but to decompressâ€”to absorb, reflect, and come to terms with: his passing, where I am today, and what plans I have for the future, as I continue caring for Mom.
As I remember all those years beginning in 2008, two years before Dad entered skilled nursing at age 91, and Mom entered assisted living at age 90, I can readily recite the challenges, and the blessings:
Mom and Dad both fought leaving their home and repeatedly railed at me, â€œWeâ€™re going out feet first!â€ Because of their feet and their minds being set in concrete, I realized it was a waste of my time and energy to continue to try and persuade them of the necessity and benefits of moving to assisted living.
They were strictly focused on themselves and did not care about what the repercussions were for me: the time, energy and sleepless nights causing me a life of stressed out days and nights.
The blessing that came to me was realizing I could just stop worrying and trust in God. It was liberating! I finally came to the conclusion: Iâ€™ll just let them be until Mom says she canâ€™t take care of Dad anymore. And that is just what happened. One day she said, â€œItâ€™s time. I canâ€™t take care of him anymore.â€
Because I stepped back and I let Mom tell me when she was ready, we created a respectful communication channel between us. This blessing helped carry me forward even to this very day.Â Back then, Mom insisted on moving into assisted living in St. Louis, MO where they lived and I did not fight it.
Knowing Dad needed skilled nursing, I did not fight that either. Within four days of them moving into assisted living, Dad could not get out of his chair and, (with his early onset dementia that started in the mid 1970â€™s and turned into Alzheimerâ€™s), he was moved to skilled nursing by his doctor.
Having them continue to live in St. Louis, the distance was challenging, but it gave her and me, both, independence in our daily livesâ€”a real blessing!
In 2013, Mom began with mild dementia: getting doctor appointments, and just about anything to do with dates, confused. I could no longer rely on her for any true information about Dad or herself, and it was necessary to move her to Whidbey Island where my husband and I had retired.
This was a major challenge for her and for me. The struggle of having my parent accept the fact that she needed to move close to me so I could take better care of her was met with the usual: â€œI donâ€™t want toâ€¦ I canâ€™tâ€¦ this wonâ€™t work.â€ However, my Creator stepped in again with another idea; I simply would say, â€œMy husband will not continue to help pay your expenses unless you are up here with us.â€ What a blessing!
Now, it is not her daughter (her child) telling her what needs to be done, but her son-in-law, a respected â€œbusinessman,â€ in her opinion. This way I donâ€™t have to spend all the time and energy it takes trying to reason with Mom to get her to do something. I accept the fact that she still sees me as her child.
I just donâ€™t think about it, so it doesnâ€™t even bother me. I know I am the adult. I have a sense of control and achievement in my mind. I am strong. And, I donâ€™t have to say any of this out loud.
All these years of planning and handling every aspect of my parentsâ€™ affairs, well-being, and daily living needs, although challenging and exhausting, has one very bright side to it: my husband and I are acutely aware of our own aging, our wants and our needs for the future, and that we need to plan and save, not only for our retirement years, but our assisted living and skilled nursing years also.
The Turning Point
During the years since 2004, in order to handle my stress, I started journaling, which led to my book â€œHappy Tales.â€ What a blessing! It is an accomplishment for me. It is meant to help others and to provide income for the nonprofit charities we support.
I have restored my identity. I have reinvented myself. I am an author. Yes, I am a caregiver, and outside of that, I am also so much more.
Resources I continue to use on my journey:
– The book titled â€œBoundaries,â€ by Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend
– Joyce Meyer Ministries programs, books, and newsletters
– The following books by Thich Nhat Hanh: â€œThe Miracle of Mindfulness,â€ â€œFear,â€ â€œHow to Relax,â€ and â€œPeace is Every Step.â€
– The book titled â€œThe Seven Spiritual Laws of Success,â€ by Deepak Chopra.
Identity Magazine is all about guiding women to discover their powers of Self-Acceptance, Appreciation, and Personal Achievement. We ask that every contributor and expert answer the Identity 5 questions in keeping with our theme. Their answers can be random and in the moment or they can be aligned with the current article they have written. In that way, and as a team, we hope to encourage and motivate each other, thus inspiring you to Get All A’s.
1. What have you accepted within your life, physically and/or mentally? Additionally, what are you still working on accepting? Now, weâ€™re talking about resignation, rather stepping into, embraced, and owned.
I accept the fact that Mom has a right to make her own decisions, such as what she eats. Her doctors have told me to let her do what she wants because it gives her pleasure and a sense of control. I now accept that everyone has a right to make their own decisions. It is not worth my time and energy to try to convince my Mom, or anyone, of what they should do. I have â€œlet it go.â€ What a blessing! I do not have to worry, fret, or even think about it. I am free! I donâ€™t sweat the small stuff. I do not judge and I do not try to control.
I am still working on accepting the fact that I cannot physically do what I did when I was twenty or thirty.
2. What have you learned to appreciate about yourself and/or within your life, physically and mentally? On the other hand OR in contrast, are there elements of who you are that youâ€™re still working on appreciating?
I appreciate the fact that I have a relationship with my Creator (for me that is God), and if I pray and stay in His word, things always work out. I struggle to think of my artwork (pastel drawing) as being good enough to be accepted by an art gallery.
3. What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life? Tell us not only what makes YOU most proud but also share the goals and dreams that you still have.
For ten years I had a company where I taught leadership and communication skills, motivation and image, and values in Los Angeles to corporate people. But, the one instance that continues to stand out in my mind is the young woman at a homeless shelter who thanked me for the interviewing skills, values, and dress for success classes I taught, pro bono. She said she got hired by a company and afterwards she asked the interviewer why she was chosen over the other applicants. The interviewer said she was the most appropriately dressed. During that ten year time in Los Angeles, I also did animal rescue work with several other women. We rescued hundreds of cats from the canyons and placed them in good homes.
My goals and dreams are to continue to earn money I can donate to the nonprofit charities I support that rescue abused animals, and help women and children who are victims of abuse and prostitution.
4. Of course, we all have imperfections, or so we think. In truth, we are all perfectly imperfect. What are your not-so-perfect ways? Likewise, what imperfections and quirks create who you areâ€”your Identity?
Sometimes I identify too much with those who are suffering. I feel their pain and often cannot sleep at night. It is this same trait that keeps me focused on charitable giving to those in need. It is who I am.
5. â€œI Love Myâ€¦â€ is an outlet for you to appreciate and express all the positive traits that make youâ€¦wellâ€¦YOU! In fact, sharing what you love about yourself will make you smile, feel empowered, and uplift your spirit and soul. (We assure you!) Therefore, Identity challenges you to complete the phrase â€œI Love Myâ€¦?â€
I love my: mind; compassion; poetry; drawing; writing; ability to achieve my goals; work ethic; values; ability to lift myself up no matter how down I might get sometimes; husband; nature; I love my Creator (God).