Life Lessons Learned From Our Elderly Parents
My mother is my best friend. I can’t imagine my life without her. However, at 87, her slow descent into her next life is growing more apparent with each passing day. When my mother lost her husband of 50 years two and a half years ago to a long battle with Dementia, her changes began. The grief of his loss became so stifling, my mother had to relearn how to breathe deeply again without crying. Soon after, she learned she had Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Macular Degeneration, quickly taking away most of her sight. My mother’s joy has always been her art. A lesser person her age couldn’t withstand even one of these tragedies.
Watching the ravages of these hardships chipping away at her advanced life has been devastating. Anger, sadness, frustration and fear have ruled my heart for the past few years. I haven’t been able to see my way around her challenges enough to begin the acceptance of her life as gracefully she has. With each monthly visit, as we live 500 miles apart, our sacred time together is riddled with my fears. Yet, even through all her daily frustrations and obstacles, she teaches me to suck up my own sorrows and see beyond the obvious. My mother is teaching me how to live and let go.
When memories fade, make new ones. The first time I noticed my mother’s memory failing was when I wanted to reminisce about a particular childhood incident. She said, “Gee, I don’t remember that.” We used to talk about it several times over the years. I was crestfallen. However, on a recent day trip into local mountains, I got lost. My mother calmly squeezed my hand and said, “Think of this as an adventure and just enjoy the gorgeous scenery.” I was immediately comforted. Our parents may be losing some of their memories, but they still know how to live in the moment, where life really counts.
At the outset of a visible frustration, put yourself in their place. My mother often lashes out at me if she feels that I am trying to micro-manage her. It is very important to her to still have her autonomy and independence, even though she may obviously need some help with a minor task like finding her keys or her purse because of her failing eyesight. I used to show my impatience when she wouldn’t let me go through her things because I was only trying to help. Lately, I have realized that I wasn’t allowing my mother to retain her dignity. Now I step back until she asks for my help. No matter what age we are, we all need to feel like we still have some control of our own lives.
Growing old takes courage. At times, my mother tries my patience because she often does too much for the limits of her physical frailties. For example, she will forget to use her walker with the basket and carries things in both hands with weak legs. My mother has fallen too many times when she forgets her safeguards. I keep dreading that final fall that will land her in a care facility. Now, instead of reprimanding her, I gently coax her to her walker. When I sit back and view all that she has to maneuver in just one day, I wonder if I will have the tenacity to keep going above and beyond my limits when I’m in my late 80’s. It is this determination that keeps her from giving up.
Learn to enjoy the repeated stories because they love telling them. I usually hear the same stories at least twice per phone call. Then when I visit, I hear them two or three times in a day. I used to remind my mother that I had heard them many times before, but it hurt her feelings to be cut off from the telling. I realize she speaks to many family members and friends in a day and forgets to whom she has told these stories; however, I have also learned to sit back and let her tell them because her memories make her happy. I’m even finding that when I allow her to repeat stories, I actually learn a new kernel or two of fascinating family information. To put it in perspective, try to imagine what it will be like when the stories stop. Learn as much as you can from your elderly parents before it’s too late.
Find the humor! I can’t tell you how many times my mother and I have laughed over her foibles. And these mishaps usually happen around the bathroom. When my mother broke her rotator cuff and was frozen to the floor, we had to get creative with her bodily urges before the paramedics came. Suffice it to say, we had to toss away a party bowl. Thank God it was all tidied up before six handsome young men arrived. My mother was whisked off to the hospital very relieved, in more ways than one. We still laugh about that day. These humorous times give my mother comic relief from her frail body and make me love her even more. Growing old is not fun, but sometimes making it funny alleviates an array of pain and sadness.
If you are, or have been, a caretaker for an elderly parent, nothing I am telling you is news. However, it doesn’t hurt to remind those of us in the middle of this most difficult time to step back and reflect upon everything our parents have sacrificed for us.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.