sarah reasoner grey

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Dear Sarah

2016-12-30
By: sarah reasoner grey
Posted in: Advice

Dear Sarah,

I worry about my parents. Mom is 79 and Daddy is 81. My sister and I met at LAX the week before Christmas and visited with them in Brighton Mass. and noticed a sharp decline in ways that are not healthy for them. Mom doesn't want to cook and clean any more and Daddy has very little desire to pick up the slack. So, the house is not clean, and they eat what we used to call TV dinners, canned soup, and Entenmann's coffee cakes. They are both thinner than they were last April, but told us that they get checkups regularly. They do have good doctors and adequate medical coverage so that is a godsend. It's just that they both have changed so much in less than a year and it scares us both.

We know that independence is very important to them. We talked about it after we left and are considering discussing with them just how they can live in a clean home and eat the right foods. We could offer a cleaning person to come in, make arrangements for meals to come in through Meals on Wheels. Or, we could ask them to think about an assisted living situation that will keep an eye out for them as they age, send them some flyers so they can look at them. Any of these ways they could have a clean home and decent food. We do not want to criticize or embarrass them in any way, and are probably walking on eggs here, but it is hard to live far away and be so helpless. 

Both of our husbands tell us to butt out and leave them be to live their lives until they call for help.

Signed,

Worried

----------------------------------------------------

Dear Worried,

Coming to terms with aging parents is difficult at best. It is good that you recognize their need for privacy and independence. You do not mention if either of your parent are infirm, or if they have any forms of mental decline so I will take it that there are no illnesses thus far. That is very good! Perhaps the lack of cleaning and cooking comes with poorer eyesight and loss of appetite as time goes on. I believe older people will take on what is comfortable for them and not do those things that are not essential to function in their day to day lives. You could offer to pay for a house cleaning person but be prepared for possible backlash as it will be taken as a criticism. Meals on Wheels, for all the positive that is done there, is not necessarily any more wholesome than today's frozen dinners - and those dinners offer a buyer's choices. You could speak with them about those choices and perhaps suggest that they choose organic prepared foods. As far as the assisted living idea I think that would have to be something to suggest down the road a bit.

Try to relax with your parents' aging processes. You thought about them in a certain way but found them not that way when you arrived. It can be discouraging but you can adjust your way of thinking as well. Love them for who they have been to you and for who they are now. Mentally give them credit for being there for each other as they age. You are ready to lend a hand whenever they ask you, you and your sister are prepared to help them with sound advice. Just wait until they ask, and for now let them know how much you both care. I wish your family lots of love and luck for 2017 and beyond.

 

Bryar E McClintock
link 01/07/17 11:20:01AM @bryar-e-mcclintock:

If your parents aren't cutting it alone, move them in with you. It's the least you could do considering they raised you. Family is family, don't count on others to do the job for you. Roll up the sleeves and move em in.

Dowser
link 01/05/17 01:05:24PM @dowser:

All of the notes and advice given here are wonderful, thoughtful, and sympathetic-- it was a joy to read them!

I have been through this many times-- as a great-niece, cousin, granddaughter, and finally, daughter.  It is heartbreaking to watch them slowly sink into decrepitude, and lose their ability to care for themselves.  And yes, we must all recognize that they are doing the best they can, but still need some help.

The author of this letter has my sympathy and respect.  Her concerns are legitimate and valuable.  I wish I could give her a hug!  

I am now in a place in my life where everyone I grew up with is dead, and I don't have to worry any more about family members, other than my own, immediate family.  I hope I can keep it together for a few years while my son finishes growing up, so as not to be a burden to him!   

Spikegary
link 01/03/17 11:21:57AM @spikegary:

My parents are going through a similar time in their lives, my dad just got out of a rehabilitation place just before Christmas, after undergoing an artery clearing surgery that came out of an infection in his foot due to cellulitis.  He's home but has problems navigating around (single story 2 bedroom condo).  My mom has numerous problems, poly-myalgia, back problems from a broken pelvis as a child and a laminectomy in the early 70s.  Plus, she has a slow heart rate, so has a pacemaker and a defribulator built in to her. 

The good news is that they have recognized that they can't do many of the things they used to do.  They have hired to very nice women that split 6 days a week between them, but my parents have the means for this.  We, my brothers and I, cook for them and cook extra (healthy) food that we freeze, so they have many meals available to them.

In November, I filled out paperwork on line for them to get transportation assistance form the local transit authority.  Mom still drives, but they will need this assistance as time goes on.  I really feel for the writer of this question, as it is a double edged sword-watching our parents age is a saddening experience, but the alternative is not appealing either.

 

sarah reasoner grey
link 01/05/17 03:08:10AM @sarah-reasoner-grey:

I am sorry to read about your parents' health problems. But this seems to be one of the best situations of aging parents and having ready, qualified assistance for them. Families that can work together as you and your brothers do will have the best memories of their families. Love is like that, sometimes it is easy and other times it is more difficult, but it is always worth it. When critical times arise in our lives it is a good rule to behave the way we want to remember it all.

Sister Mary Agnes Ample Bottom1
link 01/01/17 11:03:48AM @sister-mary-agnes-ample-bottom2:

While the symptoms of the aging process can be emotionally disturbing to the grown children, they should never be taken lightly.

The best way to determine if aging, yet still independent, parents are living safely, is to spend a few continuous days and nights at their home.  I lived across town from my parents, and even a couple of visits a day weren't enough to determine how much their standard of living had deteriorated.  And please pay attention to this:  Parents that you have loved and respected your entire life will look you right in the face and lie in order to keep their independence, and perhaps more importantly, their own sense of self-worth.  Immediately calling them on it is not recommended.  For me, the decision to remain on a more permanent basis was made over the course of a few weeks.  It was during that time that I noticed the more serious discrepancies between the truth and reality.  With me living here, they could no longer hide the car accidents, kitchen fires, and the falls that require an ER visit.  My guilt at not having recognized the seriousness of their situation, is still with me to this day, and it's been 6 years, but I have developed a sense of value that I have never experienced before. 

So, first, I recommend spending some round-the-clock time in their home.  I also recommend accompanying them to more than one doctor's appointment.  It's likely that their doctor(s) have already advised them more than once that it was time to consider either some in-home care, or moving to an assisted living facility.  Hearing it from the doctor yourself overrides the psychological need for them to lie about it.  While on the subject, when big changes are necessary, like handing over the car keys, the recommendation made by a trusted medical professional will save hours/days/weeks/months of total stress and angst that will undoubtedly happen if the order comes from you.

I realize that my situation is different because my personal situation.  Close proximity, a flexible job and no husband or children made me the perfect family candidate.  And yes, I resented the crap out of my brother for using those excuses not to be more heavily involved.  But that was pretty much in the beginning.  It was my ultimate decision to help out to such an involved degree, and I have come to respect his decision to place understandable importance on his family life. 

I also recommend purchasing the book entitled The 36-Hour Day.  Every family care-giver, whether living in, or living out, should read it.  One doesn't have to live in (or live close) to be able to do their part regarding the care of elderly parents.  All interaction is important, especially to the parents in question.  The book has been an invaluable tool that has allowed me to become a little less insane than I was in the beginning.  I still want to spank them both for their childish shenanigans, but I think I probably deserve some payback for the childish shenanigans I pulled way back when.  

sarah reasoner grey
link 01/02/17 02:37:07AM @sarah-reasoner-grey:

Thank you for your helpful commentary. You make some valid points through your personal experiences of caretaking. There is not all that much information given in the letter, but that is probably a good indication of yellow flags rather than red ones, thus far. There is a sufficient amount that can be surmised; for example: Worried traveled across the country with her sister, so we know that they support each other. Both husbands want them to lighten up the pressure and handle problems as they crop up.

My brother and I cared for our mother together and it became a sweet memory for both of us. My mother did not want to relinquish control to either of us, she simply wanted some assistance. That could have been an old fashioned trust problem, not certain. Finally it was she who hung up her car keys, allowed us to take her to the stores, and then eventually  placed herself in a nursing home, much to our dismay, as we each wanted to bring her home with us! My mother did not always make the best decisions for herself, but at least they were hers. Every person is different and for my mother independence and some form of control was essential.

My mother was a hoot, and I found it very useful many times and more understandable to think about her as a struggling woman rather than my stubborn mother. This perspective worked for both of us.

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