Aging parents can take us back to beginning

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There you are! I love seeing your face when I wake up. I know I kept you up last night, and I’m sorry. I don’t know if I was cold or scared. I forget.

Thank you so much for changing my diaper. It was getting uncomfortable and you know I can’t do much about it. I appreciate your warm touch as I drift back to sleep.

I’ll try not to be so messy when I eat today. It’s hard picking up those carrots. I wish I could use the spoon like you, but my hands can’t grip it.

Could we go for a walk today? When you push me down the street, the air feels good in my face. I love when we get to go in the car, too. There is so much to see. The view from my room gets kind of boring sometimes.

I’m so glad God gave me you. You seem to know just what I need. You don’t make me feel like a burden in my helplessness. If I could, I would tell you how much I appreciate you, but I don’t know how.

Someday, when I’m gone, I hope you can look back and remember the good times and not the bad. You do life well, and I’m privileged to have you as my child.

As parents, we know the preceding scenario very well from taking care of our children. But perhaps we’re entering the next stage of life — when we must now care for our parents.

With Memorial Day coming, up it’s again becoming the season ... to travel home and see the family. It can be stressful, if we’re worried about our folks. Mom’s eyesight may be getting worse; Dad’s driving is more erratic and dangerous. We don’t let the kids ride with him anymore.

It’s difficult when these changes begin to show. It’s harder still to find ways to talk with Mom and Dad about them — independent people to whom we looked up all of our lives who are now becoming dependent.

Perhaps one parent is failing faster than the other. In my case, my mother’s falls over the years had brought on chronic back pain, and she was unsteady on her feet. My father heroically fought macular degeneration through experimental surgeries, but it was getting worse.

Dad was trying to cook for the two of them, but mostly brought home takeout food. When I visited, I found old, moldy Styrofoam containers in the refrigerator. I’m not even sure he could have seen the mold if he’d put the food in the oven to rewarm it.

As an only child who lived 10 hours away from my parents and still having children to care for made things more difficult. I was in that “sandwich generation” I kept reading about.

Making trips home every 4-6 months to try to help, and to also ease my mind, only brought frustration and anxiety. I was envious of friends who could lean on siblings.

So began a four-year blur I look back on now and wonder how we made it through intact. I learned how to find resources of help and support, and I learned what my limitations were.

My hope, in the coming months, is to share ideas, resources and encouragement for those who have aging parents.

Patty Knittel is employed at Walla Walla University’s School of Nursing. An only child, she was caregiver for her aging parents, and writes about caregiving and other aging-related topics. She and her husband, Monty, live in Walla Walla. Email her at knittelpa@gmail.com.

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