I’ve reached an uncomfortable milestone in my life: becoming a caregiver to my parent. My father is slowly starting to need my assistance with things, but doesn’t want the help. So what do I do? How do I behave? How do I show love and concern without appearing bossy? I really don’t know, to be honest. I’m finding it to be an incredibly complex process.
I recently visited him, to help with a surgery. I met all of his friends, doctors, and people from church, and generally intruded on his well-crafted life.
It was awful for both of us.
At times during my visit, my heart burst with pride for a man who has overcome terrible odds while remaining the parent I’ve always known. My father is a remarkable person, and I admire him for all he offers to the world.
At other times, my heart broke as I noticed changes in him. Since I don’t see my father regularly, the changes seem magnified to me. I realized, with sudden clarity, how many things go unnoticed on a telephone call.
How do I juggle this new dynamic with my parent, Friend? How do I gently navigate this shift in strength, and quietly acknowledge a realignment of capabilities and responsibilities? How do I know when it’s officially time to do this on a grander scale, and not just during a quick visit defined only by temporary medical needs?
How do I create a workable caregiver parent relationship, that not only offers him respect, but also appropriate assistance?
I haven’t decided. I’ve spent time since I returned home researching, reading, and talking to others who have already traveled this path. There are many who have gone before me on this road, and as our country’s population ages, there will be many more behind me.
In a trip full of difficult moments and discoveries, do you know which of them I found to be the hardest? This one: he didn’t want me to be there. Not because he doesn’t love me, or wasn’t grateful for my assistance, or anything along those lines. He simply didn’t want me there because it signified a shift in his life. It implied he was depending upon me, instead of the other way around.
Obviously, watching him go towards the awaiting surgical suite was frightening. I was surprised to realize though, that I felt more frightened after his surgery, when he was drowsy and in pain, because it was then I saw him at his most helpless. I got a quick vision of the possible future, and it broke my heart.
This led to the second hardest part of the trip: recognizing we’ve both aged.
My father and I have both had disappointments, missed opportunities, and failures along the course of our lives, in addition to the victories. Valiantly we’ve cheered one another on, but this trip clearly showed me all of our battle scars, which made me very sad.
I don’t have any easy answers, if this is also your path. As a start, I’d encourage you to set up a network of people willing to hear about your struggles, and cheer you when you are down. It’s also important, I’ve found, to be willing to feel the pain of all this. Don’t try pretending you’re not feeling sad about these changes, because you will be sad. That’s just how it is, unfortunately. Finding a balance of dignity, grace and independence for your parent can be done, but you’ll both have to acknowledge the difficulty of what you are facing. Caregiver-parent communication is critical, and many times difficult to find if your relationship has been strained.
It’s important to care for yourself and your immediate family, as well, while becoming a caregiver to elderly parents.
Many women will need this reminder, since they frequently shoulder unnoticed burdens during the normal management of a family. Acknowledging your own physical and emotional needs is not selfish, it’s necessary. Think back to the airplane. Remember how you’re supposed to use the oxygen mask first, and then help your children in case of emergency? This is the same type of situation. You can’t help anyone, including your parent, if you’re falling apart because of the stress.
Becoming a caregiver to your parent will be an even greater challenge if your parent was abusive, absent, or non-traditional in other ways. You may have to acknowledge feelings like resentment, anger, disinterest and others. You may wonder if you’re even required to step in and take part. If so, this may be a helpful book for you:
I’d love to hear about your own caregiver’s journey. Please feel free to comment below. In addition, here are some links I’ve found to be helpful. Remember to subscribe so we can stay connected, and know you are not alone.
“10 Tips for Caring for Aging Parents” by Philip Moeller
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**Chanler Jeffers is a woman who has seen many extraordinary things over her lifetime. An adventurer, survivor, overachiever and advocate of kindness in all instances, she has been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE), and is a member of their Circle of Champions. She has had the good fortune to live and travel all over the world, grew up as a military dependent, was a single parent for many years, has survived cancer and gently shaped countless people over her years on this little planet we call home. Follow along as she shares her knowledge, her experience and her love. Oh, by the way–one more thing. She’s married to a Bass playing rock star, lucky girl.