One of the most emotionally complex and difficult things a person can experience is taking care of an elderly parent or sick parent. At some point we have all dealt with or will deal with this. They say that all of life is a cycle. When you are posed with the responsibility of caring for an elderly or ill parent things change.
Here are 8 steps that I found very useful in caring for a parent. They will help you remain sane.
1. Accept that things have changed. When a parent starts in any way depending upon their child, a world has turned upside down. Be prepared for the change. It can feel weird but they need you.
2. Take it slowly. Taking care of an elderly parent is generally a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t rush it. You and they both are in uncharted territory. While caring for my mother I found that practicing one step at a time helped me get through.
3. Expect nothing emotionally. At the end phase of their life, your parent might open up to you emotionally and spiritually; they might express for you the love that, for whatever reason, they haven’t before. Use this time to hold on to great moments. After all, that is what you have in the end.
4. Expect their anger. When you start taking care of your parent, they lose the one thing they’ve always had in relationship to you: authority. That’s not going to be easy for them to give up. Expect them, in one way or another, to lash out about that loss.
5. Give them their independence. Insofar as you can, offer your parent options instead of orders. It’s important for them to continue to feel as if they, and not you, are running their lives. Let them decide everything they can about their own care and situation.
6. Ask their advice. A great way to show your parent love and respect—and, especially, to affirm for them that they are still of true value to you—is to sincerely ask them for advice about something going on in your life.
7. Protect your “buttons”. No one in this world knows your emotional buttons like your mom or dad does. Surround those buttons with titanium cases and lock them away where your parent couldn’t find them with a Rorschach test. Unless he or she is an extraordinarily loving and mature person, your parent is bound to at least once try to push your buttons, if only to establish their erstwhile dominance over you.
8. Prepare for sibling insanity. Expect the worst from your sibling/s. For perfectly understandable reasons, many people go positively bonkers when their parents start to die. Money; childhood mementos; furniture and possessions from the family house; money; diversified assets; money; the will … you get the idea. Prepare for the coming crazy. Do not participate in it yourself. Insofar as you must, of course protect yourself. But no amount of money on earth is worth your dignity.
It goes without saying take care of you. It’s so easy to surrender to the care of your aging parent more of your life than you should. But you serve well neither yourself nor them if you fail to take walks; to stretch out; to eat right; to make sure you spend quality time away from them. Make taking time to do something fun as critical a part of your care routine for your parent as you do cooking their meals or making sure they take their meds. Your life still needs to be about you. Build your support system. If you have a friend with whom you can regularly meet and talk, or even chat with on the phone, do it. During this time the input and love of a friend is invaluable to you.
Sharing what you’re going through with someone not immediately involved with it can be like a life preserver when you’re bobbing in the ocean. As soon as you get involved with tending to your parent, call your best friend, and tell them that you’re going to be depending upon them to do what friends do best: care, and listen. This time is precious. I say it was a blessing to take care of my mother in her final days. I understood more about myself as a woman and her daughter. Those minutes go by fast. Hold on to each one of them.