There is no escaping mortality, and although inevitable, we are often unprepared when the moment is upon us. Common are questions on how to tell parents they can’t or won’t be able to take care of themselves anymore or even that due to their failing health they secretly wish they would pass on. Tears often come next as they describe the challenges of facing limited resources (financial and emotional) and having to choose between their parent and their job, children and sometimes both. Alternatively, there is guilt when the pressure becomes too much or their struggle is evident and we don’t know how to accept and own that it is ok to hope that their suffering ends.
The majority of the adults I see are struggling between raising their own kids and now facing the care of their parents who don’t have the financial security they had hoped for and thus are more dependent on their children. More frightening is the escalation in suicide with rates among the elderly (65+) now the highest in the nation, which adds yet another complex issue to how we manage and deal with aging parents who are in crisis. These children, often in their 40’s are not equipped to manage the possibilities of this conversation and have trouble accepting this is a choice a parent may take.
Although difficult in this economy, most draining is rarely the financial concerns, but the emotional drain on losing the longest standing relationship we have endured in our lives. Having recently lost my own mother, I strongly identify with the role of caretaker, advisor, and advocate to a parent who often simultaneously needs yet rejects help. Decisions about whether they should drive, need financial oversight or help, and/or have the ability to maintain independence are all issues we may face, and often ones we must enforce against their will.
Emotionally, losing someone that we have had our entire lives, whether the relationship was good, bad or indifferent, presents a profound loss. Sudden unexpected losses provide some protection from the process of seeing your parent fail physically and often mentally, however it takes away the opportunity to digest life and share final thoughts and
closure. Long term illnesses may provide time and with that the ability to discuss life issues but typically forces us to witness the devastation of disease on the body and spirit.
Support exists, and by far the greatest gift is having the understanding and compassion of someone that acknowledges and understands our pain. Local and national support and caretaking organizations exist for the issues many of us will face. I encourage you to share your story, your challenges and the support you found helpful.
This is dedicated to my mom, who at times created some of the most painful mental journeys of my life, but overall gave me unconditional love and support and made me believe that I could make a difference. I love and miss you everyday …