Lessons Learned with My Parents

A month or so ago I wrote about being an impending caregiver as my parents get older, and trying to be prepared.  It seemed like my mother – younger, more physically fit and in better health than my dad, would end up being the caregiver. At least those were the odds.

A single quick slip with a wet foot on a tile floor changed all that, and my mom is now recuperating from a shattered hip. She is in a rehabilitation facility in their community which is three hours from Sarasota.  So this is the proverbial game changer for them.  Visiting them every two weeks to help keep things afloat (and reduce the anxieties of my out-of-state siblings), I have a handful of reflections that I like to keep top of mind as we move forward:

  • Words matter. Don’t call the rehabilitation facility a nursing home.  Ever.
  • My parents are in charge. The choice of action (or not) is theirs, not mine.
  • My parents are resilient. (Could they do this without me?  Uh, yes.)
  • My role revolves around information and timing. Help gather information, connect to resources at the right time, but not too much.
  • The best approach is to frequently step back and first ask, “What would be helpful to you?”
  • Social connections -  circles of friends and good neighbors make it all work
  • Listen well. Listen to their ideas and concerns.  Listen for their solutions.  Listen for openings in the conversation which signal they are ready to talk about big future stuff - like moving closer to Sarasota.

For me, I feel fortunate to have been involved in the Aging with Dignity & Independence Initiative.  Being immersed in this discussion at a community and intellectual level has helped ground me because once this situation became personal, it was too easy to slip into a mode that is counterproductive for my parents. I like to recall some of the quotes from participants in the initiative’s research:

“Dignity means being treated as the competent, intelligent person I am.  It means having someone ask what I would like rather than tell me what I need.  It means having choices and having a voice.”

“I do have a little fear that if I get older they [my kids] might try to take care of everything, I mean, say "this is what you’re gonna do.”

As long as I remember these words, I think we can get through this as a family, with my parents' dignity and independence intact.