Dealing with aging parents has always been a challenge, but in recent years with longevity increasing almost exponentially, it’s become an even bigger job. Boomers are often in the situation of being The Sandwich Generation because of this modern phenomenon of raising kids and dealing with aging parents at the same time. Add to the mix that our geographical location is much less centered than in the past and you have quite a mess!
I lived through just about all that one can experience with aging parents and raising kids at the same time. My story is not a sob story at all, to be clear, though it certainly had its moments. I was fortunate to be in a position to care for my parents until their deaths at 89 and 90. As the only child, this job fell solely upon me. The good news is that there wasn’t any dissension between adult siblings as I’ve often heard about, while the bad news was it my job, alone.
At the height of my parent’s decline, I got separated and ultimately divorced. My ex abandoned our children and I was now a 24/7 divorcing dad and a 24/7 caregiver for my parents. Sounds like it should be a sob story, huh? But, like with everything in life, it’s all in your attitude. I had my dark moments, especially after my father died and my mother declined to very little self-sufficiency due to my father’s total enabling her throughout her life. But, I was also blessed to have my parents as long as I did and for that I will always be thankful.
It is a mission of Boomer Tech Talk to describe how some technology can assist you, the bread and meat of the sandwich, with all that may be on your full plate. This article reflects what I experienced not so long ago, with my parents. While it’s not meant to be a tearjerker, you may want that tissue box handy.
The funny thing I think about most with my parents is that I could never teach them how to use or program their VHS recorder. When DVDs came out, I did get them a television set that had a DVD player as part of it and they were finally able to play a video unassisted. However, understanding the moderately simple remote was just beyond their ability (see our BTT article on the Comcast remote).
My biggest anecdotal frustration was my mother’s inability to hit the mute button whenever I’d call. As my parents almost always had the television on, and had it on LOUD, it was near impossible to speak with them on the phone with that noise in the background. As with trying to teach them to program their old VHS recorder, I wrote it out, I demonstrated it, I made a video (really), but nothing worked. With muting, ALL it took was pressing one button on the remote. I got a bright colored market and marked the button. Didn’t work.
The first and hardest step in my parent’s journey from independence to assisted- living and later a greater degree of assisted-living, was getting them to acknowledge the need for it. Most elderly people, and I’m sure I will be NO different, don’t want to recognize their decline though they’ll sure as heck whine about it a lot. The first thing they’ll resist is to stop driving. Usually, the 2nd or 3rd accident will be more convincing than your entreaties.
But, giving up their often long-lived-in home is a much bigger, harder step. Be patient. That is the hardest thing to do when your life is so busy and they seem to take up so much of your time. They are your parents. Treat them the way you hope your children will treat you! It is hard. But, be patient.
Find the best assisted-living facility you can find even if it means you have to drive further than you want to when you visit them. My parents liked air and lightness. All the nearby facilities were dark, dreary, and the units were extremely tiny. The best place I found was the furthest from my house – a full 45-minute drive. But, I could show them their unit and know they would be mostly satisfied.
All of these facilities have small storage space. ALL of them. Their thinking is that once a person needs assisted-living, it’s time to seriously downsize all their stuff. Easy for the facility; not so easy for them or you, as you are completely stuck in the middle.
Mom may have dozens of pairs of shoes, dresses, coats, nit-naks, china and silver, mementos, etc. etc. Usually one parent, in my case it was my dad, is eager to throw it all away. And, usually, the other parent, in my case my mom, can’t decide. It was torture for my dad and me. We finally had the place for them to move, the date, and their condo was in escrow. There was no turning back, however my mom kept putting off every agreed-upon date to choose what to keep or give/throw away.
Be patient. But, in the end, as with me, you may have to choose for them. I thankfully had a wife who had taste in clothes, knew my mom’s taste, and helped with those painful decisions. My mother just sat close by, sad, but occasionally just telling a story about a particular item that brought up memories. We tried to keep all those things that meant a lot to her.
In the end, I boxed up a lot of stuff and took it to my home. Don’t do that! I still have those boxes as painful reminders of that difficult process of essentially getting rid of my parents’ material life! Do those decisions with your parents before they move. Be firm. Be patient. Be loving.
Once my parents moved into their new assisted-living home, I discovered that my job was just beginning. Most of these homes, while great improvements over the places where my grandparents ended up, are still bottom-line businesses. I became my parent’s advocate for everything from the constant complaints they had about the food, which were completely legitimate, to any number of other things that occurred on a regular basis.
Again, be patient. But, they’re your parents so make it clear to the managers that you will not tolerate certain lax standards and behavior. Make a stink if you have to – and you will have to. Understand this is your job now, as the caregiver to your aging/ailing parents. Just do it, as the slogan says, and let it be (as another saying goes…lol).
I hope these anecdotes give you a little preparation for what may lie ahead. I will be writing much more about this, but I don’t want to put you in too depressed a state. I had much joy with my parents during their latter years. I know I did the best I could do. If you do the same, you will be sad when they pass, but you will know you did your best and have no regrets. For that alone, I urge you to do your homework, follow our continuing articles on this subject, and like the Boy Scouts say, “Be Prepared.”