The road ahead had no signs as we began down this unfamiliar path.
Oh, Dad had been sick before. Cancer had twice interrupted his life. But he was Dad and he was resilient. My sister and I had just moved him and Mom into a new senior’s complex. I was flying home the next day.
The trip to the hospital caught us off guard. As we sat in Emergency and heard the doctor’s suspicions, we knew we were embarking on a new leg of this journey. I also knew I would not be on that plane tomorrow.
Family was called. The visits were special. But eventually everyone had to return to their own lives. For nearly a year Dad held his own. Mom kept him home with lots of community support. My sister went daily. I travelled back and forth, feeling guilty every time I left.
There were mixed emotions. My husband and children helped carry the ball for me in my absences. We were happy to have Dad with us yet the uncertainty was draining. Mom was determined to care for this man she had loved for over 60 years, yet she was failing too. Bystanders had many opinions for us.
How to Keep Living Your Life
One gem of wisdom, was given in the thick of the journey, and it stands out.
“Continue to live your own life while helping your parents live theirs.”
As an adult child it can be a hard choice to continue to live your own life while supporting your parents in theirs. Compassion, guilt, responsibility, all play into the difficult decision of how to manage that support. The urgency can leave us feeling as though we need to live our parents lives with them.
I was conflicted about leaving on a long planned trip with my husband. It was business related and he was committed. I really wanted to have the time together, yet I knew when I walked out of Dad’s room I might never see him again. Mom was tired. I was torn. The wise woman who managed a senior’s long term facility spoke this wisdom to me again.
“You must continue to live your own life while helping your parents live theirs.”
Questions to Ask
I pondered her words and asked myself some hard questions.
- Could I live with myself if Dad passed on while I was away? Dad and I were at peace. We had nothing left unsaid. The long hours by his bedside had given me precious memories. Yes. I could live with that.
- Could Mom manage without my support? My sister was amazing and the community help outstanding. Yes. As much as I knew Mom would not want me to go, I also knew her needs would be adequately cared for.
- Did I need to go to support my own life? In the face of long term illness this can seem a selfish question. It had been a hard year. Yes. I needed to continue to support the pillars of my own life while helping Mom and Dad in theirs. It’s like the oxygen mask in an airplane. You can’t help someone with theirs if you don’t put yours on first.
No one else can answer these questions for us and we shouldn’t judge others as they answer them for themselves.
Tools to Help
Don’t try to live your parents life with them. But support them well. These tools may help guide you:
- Be loving. Make sure the love you feel for your parents is expressed. Give hugs. Give words of affirmation and thankfulness. Express your love in ways that are comfortable for you. Consider writing a loving letter of gratitude.
- Be appreciative. Find things to be thankful for and express it to your parent(s) in whatever way feels right.
- Be gracious. For some, love may be difficult. If so, then ask yourself, “How can I be gracious here?” How can I give the gift of life in this situation? Be caring. Be kind. Be wise in knowing what needs to be said, if anything. Forgiveness can always be offered in your own heart while a gentle graciousness is offered outwardly. You will never regret giving kindness.
- Seek outside avenues of support for your parent(s). Evaluate what the needs are. Be proactive, not reactive. Most communities have help available. If help is not welcomed then watch for unobtrusive ways to give support. Respect letting parents live their own lives until they seek help or until it is necessary to keep them safe. Be gentle and wise. Seek counsel if you are not sure how to help parents that need help.
Parents have given us the wonderful gift of life. Often they have sacrificed much in raising us. Being present is a way of saying “thank you” and giving back in some measure.
When your parent(s) do pass on you will be glad you supported them in the long journey. You will also be grateful you continued to build into your own life so it is there to return to.
Wisely tend your own life while supporting your parents in theirs.