I just turned sixty a few days ago. My Dad is eighty-seven, my mom, eighty-five. It is a bitter sweet time in life. Sweet because my relationship with my parents is the best it has ever been. They need my help, and though, it can be challenging at times, I am happy to do it. Bitter, because they are close to the finish line of life on earth and the process of approaching that line has some disheartening moments and seasons.
A few years ago on one of the many occasions my mom was in rehab after a hospitalization, I read her medical chart which noted “brain shrinkage” that normally occurs with aging. This is a woman who still remembers phone numbers and does math in her head (especially when the math is related to money), but she doesn’t remember to monitor her blood sugar, eat properly, or in general, take care of her diabetes or her many other health issues.
I think dad was also in the hospital during that visit with my mom. My brother is disabled after a less that successful surgery for brain aneurysms, and has epilepsy, and diabetes. He also lives in a retirement center with the help of a part time caregiver. He needs someone give him his medication and provide direction to help get him through the day. As I sat there in the rehab facility with mom, she worried about Bill, my brother. I tried to reassure her. She cried and so did I. That visit tore my heart out. It was the wakeup call that mom is gradually slipping away. My initial response was anger. I thought, “Damn! Just when we both had mellowed and were getting along well!”
I just returned home a few days ago from a long visit in which I helped my folks move to a retirement center and begin to transfer their business over to my name. It was a grueling trip with an overwhelming load of stuff to do, but it was equally full of blessings, and most everything that needed to get done, did.
It was a sloppy move. My mom did the best she could to back while my Dad’s dementia and behavior was out of control. We eventually had to take him to the hospital to get his medication regulated. Now, he is better, still a challenge at times, but better.
I have noticed something about the way elderly people are treated medically. It seems to me that physicians throw around generic diagnoses and symptom descriptions, like, “confused”, “sun downers”, and” dementia,” and then dispense drugs without careful consideration or monitoring of their condition. A younger person, I believe, would be treated much differently.
When I pressed for a diagnosis with dad, I was told it was vascular dementia. That was another one of those, “Well, damn!” moments for me.
Actually dad’s behavior is probably a mixture of being spoiled by his mother and my mother, growing up in a male dominated society, being very OCD, physiology, medications, and personality. Life has been hard, very hard for mom as his behavior has escalated and his primary care doctor has not carefully monitored some potent medications. When things are balanced out with dad, you can have a nice conversation with him.
Distance has not been my friend since I live 550 miles away from my parents and my brother and I am legally responsible of all of them. So, that adds to my stress as the needs become more intense and more frequent.
My folks have tried to be independent to the point of being unrealistic, still driving, though they shouldn’t be and still handling their finances until they suddenly decided to turn it all over to me.
All of the recommendations that you hear about how to handle the aging process are true, like, don’t wait until the emergency to make lifestyle changes, such as moving into a retirement center, having someone to help with your healthcare needs, selling your car, and getting your business affairs in order.
My parents waited until the crisis on each point. That really does make things harder, but it provided me with the motivation to put our business affairs in order. You and your parents should have a healthcare directive, durable power of attorney, and will. It can all be done very reasonably on Legal Zoom. As well, it is important for the bill payer in the family to outline that information, along with the particular on insurance and investments. There is a great book called, When Someone Dies: A Practical Guide to the Logistics of Death, that goes into to detail on all of this and more.
But more important than business is the way we live our life and these days I am reminded of a few things that help people finish well.
- We are determining the kind of old person we will be. You don’t get a new personality in your golden years, just a more exaggerated version of the one you have been cultivating all of your life.
- Prioritize your family and relationships, nothing is more important. Don’t let your differences keep you apart.
- Have something to live for, something that refreshes and nurtures your soul right up to the end. It will keep you busy, engaged, and interesting to other people. You will probably live a longer and happier life, too!
- Make the necessary transitions early, before the crisis forces you to do so. That makes it easier on everyone.
- Treat each other with respect. Parents should appreciate their children, rather force unreasonable expectations on them and children should consider it an honor to care for their aging parents because we will all be there one day.
In the midst of the sad aspects of this time in life, I am amazed at what a sense a purpose I experience in helping my parents and being my parent’s advocate. And so it should be.