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Helping Your Parents When The Time Comes

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For the last five years, I have been making sure that I visit my parents, who live in Florida, at least three times a year. They are getting on in years and have had some serious health problems to overcome. I'm the oldest sibling in the family and I welcome the responsibility to help my parents as much as I can. My own family has been a rock supporting me in my attempts to help my parents as much as possible. They know that my being there with them for a week or two at a time, three times per year, is important in helping them to handle the tough issues of finding the right doctors and health care professionals. In the last year, we've all noticed how frail both my parents are getting and it breaks our hearts to no end to watch them deteriorate, as most folks my age have found out for themselves.

Why do I write about this? Well, during this last visit, which is to spend the whole holiday season with them, I found out that there are lots of things that can go wrong. I feel that I'm learning some valuable lessons when dealing with my's darned hard to say the least!! My parents are still very independent and have their own ways of doing things and change is extremely hard for them in their later years. New ideas to handle things and good recommendations for obvious potential problems need to be handled very carefully. These lessons I've been learning have been the hardest I've ever had to deal with and, because I'm their daughter, trying to help seems more like trying to interfere.

Here's an example of what happened in the last month and how it turned out:
After Ralph and I took our usual Florida vacation the last week of October and the first week in November (we stayed a few days with my parents and found out that there are some decisions made by them that may do some damage) we talked and decided that I should probably be there during the holiday season as it may be my father's last. In the last year he has been using a cane because his right leg is failing due to a pinched nerve in his back, which is inoperable at his age. My Mother should also use a cane as she has a history of falling down and breaking bones. This happened while crossing a neighbor's yard a couple years back. Despite the many benefits of using a cane, she refuses to do so. Both parents also refuse to use the aid of a shower chair to help them be safer when they wash up (high percentage of accidents among the elderly happens in the shower) and they both have balance issues and need help to walk or even stand for periods of time. They are not set up for wheelchair accessibility and refuse to do anything about that as well. My mother also does not want anyone to come into the house to clean or cook, take care of the pool, etc. So, with Ralph's support, I decided to pack up my car and spend a couple of months during the holiday season to help them get the help they need whenever they need it. I was being a good daughter, right? Not so much as it turns out.

Because I like to coach for a living, I thought I'd be able to approach these issues by asking questions, rather than barge in and take over, such as: What will you do if you need help if one of you falls and can't get up? How do you handle people coming to the door to sell products or services (which still happens a lot down in their area)? If someone calls on the phone and asks for your personal information, what do you do? How's the driving going lately? Has your eyesight gotten worse since the last time I was here and have you had any near misses? I've noticed that you don't cook as often as you used to – why is that? At first, my mother, who is the keeper of all things when it comes to the house, was happy that I took a great deal of interest in their well-being. After a week of trying to plant some reasonable seeds for improvement to their lifestyle, my mother started to behave differently toward me. She stopped answering my questions, stopped being polite, and complained when I bought food or other things to help pay my way while staying with them. My mother actually said that she knew what she was doing and that I'm only causing trouble between her and my father. I realized then and there that she thought I was taking over and that I didn't trust her to do the right thing for them. Using my coaching experience didn't work with my parents AT ALL.

After seeking some recommendations with Ralph and my siblings, here's what I decided to do. I simply approached both parents and told them that I was going to “but out” of their lives and just enjoy the holidays with them. I asked them to please let me know when they need things and that I would be there to help. They both promised me that they would do just that and that, even if something does happen, that's life and that they are happy with the fact that I was going to stop asking questions and making recommendations.

My mother was much more receptive to me because I apologized for butting in and that I'd probably feel the same way if her granddaughter tried to overstep the boundaries of my life. The best part about this story is that my mother is much more caring toward my father, she is paying attention more to the things that she has trouble doing and asking for more help, and that she too should be mindful of the changes that need to happen, especially when the doctor says it's a good idea.

This process (for a lack of a better word) actually made things better for all of us, although it didn't seem like it at the time. My siblings are spending more time visiting my parents now and have learned from my mistakes. We are all following the path of respectful resistance so as not to appear like we are insisting that changes be made.

Many of my friends and relatives have said that I was doing the right thing and my intentions are good ones. If not me or my family, then who would make sure they are well and safe? As much as I'd like to think that I am doing the right thing, I also know that there is a very fine line that can be misunderstood. My parents do not under any circumstances want to lose their independence and they have earned the right to live as they want to, even if it looks like they are missing the point of wellness and health. They still have good minds and are making decisions they feel are good for them. Who am I to interfere with that?!? When they pass, I will know that they lived the way they wanted to and that has to be good enough.

Thanks for reading this article...I hope it helps others who have similar situations. Wishing you all the best holiday season ever!!

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Lorraine Twombly
Priority Learning



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