Five Ways of Dealing With the Sadness of Letting Go of Our Elderly Parents
Five Ways to Deal With the Emotions of Your Parents Dying
This is a hard time for Baby Boomers, those of us born between the years 1945 and 1965. If we haven’t already lost our parents, The Greatest Generation, born between the years 1915 and 1935, then we are losing them now in droves.
Our collective memories of the parents who fought and served in WWII, or lived through the Great Depression, are of brave, resilient people who taught us to face life with a ‘get up and dust yourself off’ attitude. Our parents taught us the merits of working hard by their own examples.
My father never had a college education, but he worked his way up the ranks to Vice-President of Farmer Brothers Coffee before he died of a massive heart attack at age 57 (this generation was sometimes too stoic when it came to preventative health care). My mother had to work when my father left us for another family. She didn’t feel sorry for herself or seek welfare; she pounded the pavement until she found a secure high school secretary position, with benefits, to take care of her children.
Growing up in a blended family after my mother remarried, six of us learned how to make our way by the blood, sweat, and tears of our own hard work. Our parents expected nothing less. Now, our heroes are aging into the end of their lives and we have to be strong for them.
1. Acknowledge the Sadness
I’ve tried ignoring my sadness for last the few years as I have watched my mother fail. It has affected my life in every way. I can’t concentrate on my passions and I worry about her incessantly. Within the past few months, I have had to distance myself from my own self-pity by becoming pro-active with her care. My mother is 88, and her body is betraying her. She’s never going to age in reverse, so it’s time to put on my big girl pants to devote my energy in making her comfortable. Reality is life. It’s okay to be sad. Conversely, the realization that I am so sad is proof that I have had the privilege of having a great relationship with my mother, not afforded to many.
2. Accept the Changes
My mother’s memory is showing more erosion around the edges. The things we used to laugh about are dissipating into thin air. I can remind her, but when a memory is totally gone, I have to focus on the memories she relishes in telling over and over again. My mother is still trying to hide her diminishing abilities, which tears at my heart. However, when I accept her slow decline by just being present with her, I realize that these moments are her last precious gifts to me.
3. Throw the Guilt Under a Bus
Living 500 miles away from my mother has become my biggest source of guilt. However, we talk every day, and I make monthly trips to be with her for a week. Within those visits, I make sure all of her safety measures and helpers are up to date. When I am not with her, the guilt seeps into every pore. Realistically, my life is in my home with my husband. We bought a bigger home for my mother to live with us, but she is steadfast in her resolve to stay in her home of fifty years with her son, her doctors, her family, and friends. Guilt does nothing to change my mother’s life, and it keeps me from enjoying her. Thank God I have family and friends who support me with the comforting words, “You are a great daughter.”
4. Make Each Moment Count
Even though this sentiment speaks for itself, I think this is the most valuable cog in the aging machine. All any one of us has is the present. When I put aside my sadness, my fears, my grief, and my guilt, then I can truly feel the inherent beauty of the remaining time I have left with my mother. And that is the legacy I want to carry in my heart until my dying breath.
5. Be Proactive
When my sadness became palpable, I had to act. I have found that taking action to make my mother safer and more comfortable is a strong antidote. When I contacted all of the people on her support team—counselors, doctors, lawyers, friends, family, and neighbors—the sadness receded into a manageable feeling. Just knowing that I have care and emergency plans in place when she takes a medical turn allows me to enjoy her more in the moment. Our parents don’t need to be reminded that their days are numbered. All they have left is their love. And that love is more than enough.
Acknowledge the sadness. It is real. It is earned. It is love.