ne of the hardest things we deal with as we age is the aging of our own parents. We see them having troubles physically and sometimes mentally. My mother used to tell me, “I’m fine until something breaks!” – Well, duh! Isn’t that the nature of it all? If I had a dollar for every time I heard my mother use the word “fine”, I’d be very wealthy! Don’t get me wrong, Mom was great; intellectually sharp, physically in pretty good shape, positive outlook on life and in pretty good spirits. BUT, her cheerful independence coupled with her desire not to worry me, made for some tense moments.
Here’s one: Mom was living in an independent retirement community, still driving and “doing fine.” One day she calls and says, “I’m not feeling very well and was wondering if you would make an appointment and take me to the doctor tomorrow.”
After about 10 minutes of a subtly conducted interrogation, I very calmly said to her, “No Mom, I’m not taking you to the doctor, this is a little more serious. I’m going to call an ambulance. And, YOU WILL COOPERATE when they get there, WON’T YOU! I’ll meet you at the hospital.” She had severe peritonitis due to a ruptured colon three days before she called me! But, keep in mind, she was sure she would be “fine” given a couple of days!
An acquaintance put it very simply, “We all know it’s coming (our parents’ aging) but we don’t know what that means, and when it happens, we have no idea what to do.” She was so right! Will one or both of your parents live to a ripe old age, the picture of health? Will they suffer a catastrophic illness? Will they develop some form of dementia? Will they fall and injure themselves? Will they have a car accident when they can’t really drive safely anymore and hurt themselves or someone else? Can they take care of each other “until death do them part?”
Then there’s the other thing we aren’t thinking about when we consider our parents, and that is, how are we holding up ourselves? Back problems? Bad knees, hips? Arthritis? Losing strength and muscle tone? Financial and emotional stress? These things affect our abilities to handle our aging parents’ needs if and when they need us.
Be aware that you will face challenges of all kinds. Do what you can to anticipate predictable things and you will have a much easier time dealing with the unpredictable ones. Have those family talks about topics that “easy.”Find out who wants what and get it on paper. You may be comfortable with verbal agreements among each other, but there will inevitably be the times when some entity beyond the family needs to see it in writing.
Wills, Advance Directives, Powers of Attorney for Health Care, and even written family agreements, are a few things that deal with what is to happen when your aging parent (or yourself) cannot speak for themselves. And, you cannot find out what they want when they are unconscious, or if they develop dementia. It’s TOO LATE then!
Other things you can do are review the things your parents (or yourself) have in place financially; life insurance, annuities, other forms of investment, trusts, long term care insurance, veterans benefits. Knowing where these things stand, getting answers to questions relevant to them and/or establishing some of these things will go a long way to reducing your stress, as well as potentially catastrophic expenses down the line.
And, on a personal note, keep in touch regularly to make sure things really are “fine” and VISIT or have someone else visit to see. And be suspicious when you’re told, “You’re so busy, and I don’t want to bother you.”