Let’s face it, we’re all going to die.
Likely our parents will pass before we do. They may pass from a cornucopia of different issues and some diseases may rob your parents of their functioning years before they pass away.
So, what do I do?
The answer to this question will depend on your relationship with your parents, their wishes, their retirement plan, the disease they contracted, and your own abilities. Your capability to care for your parents will depend on your availability, competing responsibilities and money.
Some children become involved in their parent’s lives when they need additional help. Culture may also impact how you care for parents. In Asian cultures, caring for elders is embedded in the fabric of society. Grandparents often live in the same households as their children and grandchildren, making the caregiving process easier because all family members participate in the care. In fact, in some of these cultures sending parents to care homes is often regarded as taboo.
I, myself, also held this belief about nursing homes. I never wanted to send my parents to these facilities. The nature of living in a nursing facility feels too regimented, institution-like, and frankly, boring.
We must also remember that these places exist for a reason. Individuals who are in nursing homes need intensive personal care to function. This includes people with a severe physical or mental handicap, people who can no longer feed or clean themselves. If they did not receive care to manage their daily lives, they would likely catch an infection or injure themselves in a fall.
As their child, you will likely take on some form of caregiving; whether it be grabbing groceries, balancing the budget or helping them to the bathroom. Caring for parents, in one form or another, is a role that not everyone is equipped to deal and it often falls on your lap without your consent.
Things happen unexpectedly. Illness is one of the many cards life can hand you. My goal in this article is to make you step back and look at the overall picture. I hope to provide advice that will benefit your parents’ wellness and your own mental health.
Remember that sh*t happens
It’s very normal to be upset, annoyed, angry that this had to happen to your family. It becomes easy to be annoyed when loved ones are diagnosed with diseases in which diet or exercise could have made all the difference. Or maybe, there’s no rhyme or reason to why your parents were suddenly diagnosed with an illness like dementia or stroke.
My advice, skip the why. Don’t ask yourself why your loved ones were diagnosed with disease x, y, z. This just leads you down a rabbit hole with no meaningful answer.
“If you can’t change your fate, change your attitude.” ― Amy Tan
Have Frequent Conversations with Your Parents
I find that people are starting to have more conversations about death. This is a great first step. People are living longer but they aren’t necessarily living longer as completely healthy individuals. As individuals age, they will take more pills, spend weeks to months in the hospital, maybe need oxygen to breathe, or require a walker or wheelchair.
Anticipate these potential outcomes and have frequent conversations with your parents about their wishes. Ask them how they would like to live if they weren’t completely healthy.
Ask your parents these questions:
- If you were to get sick, who would you want to make your health choices?
- If you were ever to become sick, what would you expect of me?
- How would you like to live over the next 10 or 20 years?
- What are some things that are important to you that you could not give up even if you became sick?
Ask yourself these questions:
- How do you feel about the responsibility?
- Do you have enough time to care for your parents and also care for yourself?
- What would I be willing to give up to continue to care for my parents?
- Are there certain things that I know I will need help with?
These questions are meant to get you started. There are many things to consider for endless different scenarios but the main idea is to be aware of your parents wishes about how they would like to live. This is also a great way to emotionally and financially prepare for the unexpected.
Assess and Reassess Boundaries
As you grow, your responsibilities will change. You may get married, have children, get a new job, or move away. Consequently, your responsibilities to your parents will change. This becomes especially important when they become reliant on your help with appointments, picking up medicine, eating or going to the bathroom.
There’s a grey area between caring for parents and moulding your life around caring for them. It’s important to be honest with yourself and recognize what you’re comfortable doing now and what you’ll feel comfortable continuing to do for the unforeseeable future.
There’s an element of guilt when people want to stray away from caregiving responsiblities and that’s completely normal. It’s all part of reassessing boundaries. Instead of denying it, give that thought some room to breath. Dissect your thoughts and feelings, identify why you’re feeling that way; maybe you just need a break but you may also need more help.
Consider Asking for Help
Caregiver burnout is classified as chronic stress from caregiving responsibilities manifested in three main symptoms; feeling overwhelmed, detachment from the person receiving care, diminished sense of fulfillment (Gerain & Zech, 2019).
Often people need to reach this phase of caregiver burnout to accept help. These people often enter the healthcare system exhausted but skeptical of healthcare workers. As a nurse, I often see individuals who believe that they are the only people capable of providing excellent care for their family. Some simply don’t trust nurses or doctors. Not only do they feel like they’ve failed but they also must relinquish control over their parents wellbeing.
It’s not easy to ask or accept help. The type of help you require will depend on your needs and the resources available to you. Maybe consider asking other family members for help or consider private paid help.
“Sometimes asking for help is the most meaningful example of self-reliance.” —Cory Booker
Gérain, P., & Zech, E. (2019). Informal caregiver burnout? Development of a theoretical framework to understand the impact of caregiving. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 1748.