On Caregiving ....

I had the privilege a few days ago of joining Elizabeth Stafjei on her CJAD Show Living Better (November 3rd). The topic was about the challenges of taking care of an elderly parent and all that that entails. Radio shows are a strange thing.... Time is super short, the question is as much a part of the conversation as anything, and the conversation itself comes in bites so its not always comprehensive or comprehendible...  Hence todays blog.

Elizabeth's first question was:
People are living longer and children are faced with confusing and complicated feelings and issues when caring for an elderly parent. How can one manage the intense emotions which can weigh heavily for some?

My very first comment on the show was that above all, this time in our lives requires a huge dose of compassion, both for ourselves and for our parents. From the elderly person's perspective, there is such a huge amount of loss going on: one's autonomy, a home, a degree of privacy, feelings of being able to handle life.

We the caregivers, the children, can find ourselves angry and upset because we don't want our parents to change. We want them to be the strong, supportive, care taking people they have always been. Its tough watching and accepting their decline. Its tough when the roles change. Its scary. None of us "enjoy" contemplating our parents mortality, let alone our own. If you can tune in to these natural feelings inside your self, and be compassionate and honest with yourself about how hard it can be, you will go a long way in easing the pain for both of you.   

We also sometimes see a tendency to get angry at the mounting incapacity of our elderly parents. If we reflect, its often a projection of how we would feel, now, if this were to be our own situation, or looking forward we are afraid of finding ourselves in the same position. If people were telling me I might need to give up my home, that I needed help living... Well I'd be plenty upset.  It behooves us to step back and understand where our feelings are coming from.

Some of us find ourselves upset because we have just (almost, sort of...) finished raising (and hopefully launching) our kids. Or our kids are back in our scope of care due to children of their own, our grandchildren. As you can see the landscape grows. We might find ourselves wondering "Where's the time for me?" And now we are noticing changes in our parents, they seem more forgetful, are having trouble keeping up with regular routines, regular chores, your alarm bells are ringing.... And we feel stretched, exhausted, and its easy to snap. 

I can not emphasize enough how important self care is at these times. If you are running on empty, get help. Call in local resources that will offer respite to you. Maybe its time to start having conversations about assisted living. If it is .. Go into these times knowing it will probably be challenging. People don't resist change to be obstinate, they tend to resist change because they are scared. 

For those of us with elderly that are being stubborn and frightened... Look around. Are they isolated? Are they getting social needs met? Are they capable at keeping up with medication, banking, cooking and eating? If any of these are a challenge, and you have stretched the limit of community resources, as well as your own, it may be time to talk about change.

On the show yesterday, Elizabeth talked about guilt... So what about guilt? If you are making decisions about your parents' care, and those decisions are made from a compassionate, realistic, benevolent place, there is no cause for guilt. Not doing anything because of guilt is wrong and dangerous. Not doing anything when something needs to be done, because we are anxious, or avoiding a conflict, is wrong.  It is at these difficult times that we have to put our feelings aside - the need to please, the fear of conflict, the guilt of care taking - and step up and do whats best for the person who can't any more. Its what makes us human.

Be kind and compassionate to your self.

I've realized that the topic is vast. I will be writing further on the subject. If you have questions or comments please feel free to write.

Peace to you.

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