So often I hear frustrated clients tell me, “Help, my elderly parents are so stubborn and they are driving me crazy!” I completely understand this frustration as I have been there too. My elderly mother became more and more forgetful as she got older. She would forget to eat and drink. She was too frail to drive and her life consisted of playing solitaire, watching TV and waiting and hoping that someone might stop by for a visit or give her a call. Trouble was, she never had anything to talk about because she had become so isolated from the world. She refused to move to a senior community and expected me to be available at a moments notice – even though I lived hours away and had a family and full time job. I was so worried about her and frustrated too. So, I get it. I really do. I understand what it’s like to be a parent to a parent. I got through it. I help my clients get through it and you can get through it too. Here are some thoughts that might make you, as a parent to your parent, feel a little better.
First of all, it is important to understand that the Senior in your life is experiencing a lot of loss- sometimes on a daily basis. It doesn’t matter if they do or do not believe in the necessity of moving to a safer place. It still hurts and our patience is required. They are most likely losing more of their independence on a daily basis. They have already suffered some physical and mental loss and are feeling sad, confused and probably a little angry too. They may have lost their beloved life partner. Seniors will often say “no” just because they can as it is the last bastion of their independence. If they move, they are leaving memories, familiar surroundings, neighbors and friends behind. They don’t remember how to make friends and aren’t particularly eager to make the effort to do so again.
If you are the adult child of a Senior, you are feeling a lot of loss too! Your role has been reversed and it feels uncomfortable and overwhelming. You remember when they were young. You hate seeing them lose their independence. If they have to move, you will miss the old family home too! You also wish things could stay the same. You feel guilty that you can’t keep them in their home. You feel guilty that they can’t live with you. You feel guilty that you have to take so much time away from your own family and career. You feel guilty that you feel angry when they make demands on you. You feel guilty for feeling guilty!
Wow, that’s a lot of anger, sadness and guilt all around!
Relax, trust and know that as the adult “parent to your parents”, that regardless of what you are feeling, you are bringing the love, nurturing, patience and care that you received as a child, back full circle to them. What a privilege. What a gift. Even if they don’t appreciate it, you are helping them move forward and live safer and happier lives. Be content with knowing that. Living alone is not fun. Living alone is boring. Living alone when you are a Senior can be dangerous.
Sometimes your aging parents will absolutely refuse to move under any circumstances. In that case, offer them solutions. You can’t be with them all the time. They can’t be left alone. So ask them what the solution might be? Just being faced with having to solve the problem will encourage them to let go and let you decide for them. If they are worried about what to do with 40 years of accumulated possessions, help them choose what to take, get them out of their house and into their new senior community first. Then you can clear the house of their excess stuff. You can’t do it when they are still living in their new home. It’s too traumatic for everyone concerned. If you can’t take care of the move yourself, hire someone through NAPO National Association of Professional Organizers, or NASMM National Association of Senior Move Managers to do it for you. You can find a professional near you through their national website.
On the day of the big move, pack a suitcase and/or a banker’s box for your senior in preparation for the move. Mark it carefully and be responsible for it. It should contain all critical papers, medications, valuable jewelry and any other important documents you can think of. Moving is very unsettling and the fear for Seniors of losing important things is great. Seniors can fall into a state of panic if they cannot find certain items. Help them feel safe about these things. Take them out of their home before the movers arrive and don’t deliver them to their new home until it has been unpacked and completely set up. I like to tell my clients that their parents will feel like they’ve been “beamed like Star Trek” into their new home and, it will feel like home – beds made, food in the frig, everything put away, cable TV installed, pictures on the wall, mementos on display.
In their new Senior Community, your parents will be watched and cared for around the clock. You will be assured that they are eating and drinking – a lot of seniors “forget” to do this and fall ill. They will make new friends and have new people to tell their old stories to. The can share life experiences with their peers. They will also be intellectually stimulated once again, which might bring back some of their lost cognitive abilities. They will be encouraged to re engage in the world-and most importantly, they will be SAFE.
Once they have moved, you will feel better too! You will be relieved that they are safe and watched over. You will know that they are eating properly and drinking fluids. You will know that their lives are now richer, with new friends and lots of activities to look forward to. You will enjoy your visits with them once again and you will get your own life back in the process.