Bob is old. He’s played golf every day since his retirement in March.
One day he arrives home looking very downcast. “That’s it,” he tells his wife. “I’m giving up golf. My eyesight has gotten so bad that once I’ve hit the ball, I can’t see where it lands!”
His wife sympathizes. As they sit down for dinner she makes a suggestion: “Why don’t you take my brother with you and give it one more try.” “That’s no good, ” sighs Bob, “your brother is a 103 years old!” “He may be 103,” says the wife, “but his eyesight is perfect.”
So the next day, Bob heads off to the golf course with his brother-in-law. He tees up, takes an almighty swing and squints down the fairway. He turns to his brother-in-law. “Did you see the ball?” “Of course I did! I have perfect eyesight,” says the brother-in-law.
“Well, where did it go?” asks Bob.
Because of your flexible work schedule, you are the designated driver when it comes to taking Mom and/or Dad to doctor appointments. Well, the older your parents get, the more feeble their bodies, and the more potential for aggravating factors such as cognitive decline. What should have been a 2-hour outing has become an all-day event.
I’m quite certain that many of you reading this article have struggled in your efforts to drive Mom or Dad to their many doctor appointments. Getting Dad into the car is one thing, but getting him out? My goodness – through no fault of his own, he’s forgotten the process and you don’t have the strength to lift him out. With Dad’s cognitive decline, his understanding of what it means to sit or stand on command has decreased. The ol’ “Ally Oop!’ maneuver or the “1-2-3 Stand!” command just won’t work any more. What’s a person to do when you are not able to exert the strength to facilitate such an action on your father’s behalf?
When I visited my father in the long-term care (LTC) facility in which he lived, my goal was to get him out of the facility as frequently as possible. I took him on picnics, on walks around a park’s perimeter, up and down the aisles of a supermarket – anything to provide a change of scenery for him.
As my father’s dementia increased, however, these outings became less and less practicable. I was not blessed with a strong back so my attempts to lift him out of the car or onto a park bench were met with horrendous failure. I grieved the cessation of these activities but I just couldn’t manage my father’s body any more. And not being able to go on these outings really curtailed the enjoyment of our visits together.
Had I lived in the same town as my father, another person could have accompanied me who was capable of assisting with the transfer of my father in and out of the vehicle. Unfortunately, my father lived in Southern Oregon and I live in the Seattle, Washington area so calling upon a friend to go along on these outings was not an option for me. If you, however, live near your loved one, do yourself, and your loved one, a favor by bringing another family member or a friend who has the ability to assist with the mechanics of transporting Dad on outings. Not only will the physical assistance help, but you’ll have someone else with whom to visit when the conversation with Mom or Dad lags due to cognitive decline – or hearing difficulties.
Another benefit of having an additional person with you is that you are introducing your friend to the unavoidable process of aging. This may sound like a negative benefit, but truly, it is not. You will open your friend’s eyes to the future that awaits us all while also providing him with a lesson on how to enhance the life of someone whose world has been drastically reduced in size.
See? It’s a win-win-win situation! You receive the help you need, your parent gets a change of scenery, and your friend learns a valuable lesson.
I want to encourage you to check into local resources that provide suggestions on how to be the best caregiver you can be. For example, your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association is a very valuable resource. They have numerous articles within their website and a 24-hour Helpline 1-800-272-3900 to ease you through this process. There’s one thing on which all of us caregivers can agree – we can’t do it all by ourselves. Reach out to receive the assistance that you so richly deserve, and that others are willing to provide.
When an adult child’s earlier relationship with a parent has been wrought by abuse, how does the child manage to provide care to this parent who reigned verbal, physical, and/or sexual abuse upon him/her?
- Is it possible? Yes.
- Is caregiving required of an adult child in this circumstance? No.
- Is the child wrong to turn his or her back on a parent requiring care and attention? Absolutely not.
Every individual’s situation is unique due to the extreme nature of this type of family dysfunction. There truly is no textbook answer that fits each circumstance. Not only is the situation unique but we’re talking about emotions – and how one deals with those emotions. We’re talking about the balance of how the previous harm has been handled and whether or not contact of a caregiving nature may prove newly damaging to the adult child/victim. For the purposes of this article, we will assume that the adult child has decided to participate in her abusive parent’s caregiving. CAVEAT: Anything I offer in this article is not based on personal experience, but rather, experiences that have been relayed to me through my work with adults who are also caregivers for their parent. I’m not an expert, I’m only an observer. I covet any input that my readers may be able to offer.
The caregiving well is shallow.
More likely than not, the well from which the child can draw may be very shallow. If the adult child has chosen to keep her distance from the abusive parent for many years, being suddenly thrust into one of the most difficult jobs she will ever perform could be a next to impossible task. Let’s say that she has decided to give it a try but she has been wise enough to set up an escape route that she will follow when the going gets tough. I don’t necessarily mean an actual, physical escape route. Rather, she has established the upper limit that she will bear should matters get out of hand emotionally or physically. She makes a commitment to herself that sets a comfortable threshold after which she will walk away, guilt free, knowing she made a valiant effort. She is strong enough to acknowledge that at some point she may need to cease all caregiving efforts.
As I mentioned in a September 2011 Blog entry, “Deathbed promises and how to fulfill them,” (found in the Caregiving category of this site) even adult children with a fabulous relationship with their parent struggle greatly in their caregiving efforts. Whether you end up being a hands-on caregiver (providing the care in your parent’s home or yours) or you find yourself as the primary family contact with the staff caring for your parent at a long-term care (LTC) facility, you are pulled into the intimate aspects of a parent’s life and it is not an easy role in which to function.
Feeling obligated vs protecting oneself.
Too often, we do things out of a feeling of obligation rather than heartfelt compassion. In the situations outlined above, obligation will either be the only thing that places you in the caregiver role, or it will convince you that you’re not emotionally available to walk down that rut-filled path. I am an advocate for vulnerable adults – I live by that mantra – but in this situation I feel that the person needing the most advocacy is the adult child who still struggles with the effects of a past abusive relationship with a parent. If you are not able to provide the caregiving, please know that there are others who can do so in your place. You don’t have to be “it” ‘in this situation, and having someone else step in could very well be the best caregiving scenario for you, and your parent. If you ever find yourself in this role, please do not act alone. The community around you: churches, local government health service organizations (such as that found in Washington State), organizations that protect the abused, are an absolute required tool in your toolbox to be an effective caregiver, and an emotionally protected adult child.
Anyone out there who has been in this role or is currently in this role of taking care of an abusive parent?
Your input is very valuable and could very well help those struggling with this scenario. If you feel strong enough to share your story you have my thanks for opening up on this Blog.
A man runs into the ER and asks the doctor if he knows a way to stop the hiccups.
Without any warning, the doctor slaps the man in the face. Amazed and angry, the man demands an explanation.
“Well,” says the doctor, “you don’t have the hiccups anymore, do you?”
“No,” the man answers, “but my wife, who’s in the car, still does.”
Thanks to my sister-in-law, Tricia (a nurse), I’m able to add this joke to my Blog.
I’m truly grateful for this posting by Morris in his Musings from Third Base blog. My mother always told me that you don’t have to look very far to locate someone worse off than yourself. That doesn’t mean you ignore the valid feelings of desperation or frustration that one feels from time to time – especially as we become more and more of a Baby Boomer. But what it does mean is that we can probably honestly say that we also have a few reasons to celebrate during this stage in our lives. I don’t wait for the grandiose, huge reasons to celebrate – I don’t want to wait THAT long. Instead I celebrate even the smallest of accomplishments, or good times; that way I have far more celebratory moments in my life. Forget about not SWEATING the small stuff. Let’s CELEBRATE the small stuff that give us reasons to be grateful.
A class of approximately 25 Senior Citizens enrolled in a Logic class at the local community college. This class proved to be very interesting but also VERY challenging.
A week before the final exam, their Professor sympathized with their concerns about what was sure to be a difficult Final Exam, especially given the fact that the Senior Citizens in the class hadn’t sat in a classroom or been faced with this type of exam process in quite some time. The Professor gave each student permission to fill an 8.5 x 11 sheet of white paper with what they felt would help them correctly answer the exam questions.
On the day of the exam, student by student filed into the classroom with their white pieces of paper filled with notations that they felt would help them through the exam. The last student to enter brought in a blank piece of white paper and placed it on the floor to the left of him in the aisle. Shortly thereafter a more traditionally aged college student walked in and stood within the confines of the piece of paper. Wow – now that’s weird.
Turns out the student that stood on the white piece of paper had a Masters Degree in Logic and provided all the answers to the Senior Citizen who invited him to participate in the exam with him. This Senior Citizen student got all the answers right because he followed the guidelines suggested by the Professor: fill the 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper with what he felt would help him correctly answer the exam questions.
Seems logical to me – wish I had thought of that when I took my college Logic exam so many years ago.
“In case of a loss of airplane pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead compartments. Put mask on yourself first before assisting children or those not able to help themselves.”
Why? Unless the able-bodied person is fed oxygen, he won’t be able to help any one else.
Whether you are actively providing care to your loved one or you are the point-person managing that care, you are stretched thin.
Your reserves are low.
Your tank is nearing empty.
You’re on the path to caregiver burnout – or you’ve already arrived.
You love to think that you can do it all:
- have a full-time job, and a full-time family;
- have numerous duties in your own household that obliterate any “idle” time during your day;
- you’re on the community board or other volunteer activity; and, oh yah
- you’re responsible for your aging parent’s, or spouse’s, day-to-day maintenance.
Not only are you burning the midnight oil; you’re burning the candle at both ends and about to self-destruct.
“But I have to do this. I have a lot of people counting on me to take care of dad. If I don’t do it, who will? I won’t be a dutiful son/daughter, if I walk away from all my responsibilities!”
Oftentimes what happens in these situations is a person ends up being of no good to anyone.
- You’re taking more and more time off from work either due to your own illnesses or to attend to the needs of others;
- Your spouse and children are suffering from the constant stress that your over-extension of commitments places on the household;
- The project for which you volunteered at the PTA or Boy Scouts, or FILL IN THE BLANK, is dead in the water because you don’t have the time or energy to devote to the cause; but
- Your loved one for which you provide care is doing just fine because he/she is receiving all of your attention.
Keep this up and you’ll be no good to anyone because a vehicle doesn’t run on an empty tank and neither can you. It’s time for you to attend your own “care conference” to come up with a realistic plan of how to direct your own health and well-being.
The “To Do” List vs the “Don’t Do” List:
You weren’t put on this earth to help everyone and despite your well-meaning belief that you can do it all – you can’t, and you’ll never be able to do so.
- Write a list of everything you currently feel obligated to do each week. Now cross out a third of that obligation list. Do what you can to delegate duties and/or designate other willing people to carry a third of your burden. You should already start feeling better.
- Now eliminate – or temporarily withdraw from – another third of your obligations. You won’t offend others by doing so if they know you well enough to understand your reasons for stepping back a bit. I’m certain they know that they will be able to count on you later when your life situation isn’t so acute. You’re not dropping out, you’re just putting yourself on pause.
- Reconnect with the family in your household. Don’t risk losing your family. You need them on your team and they need you. They will be around long after the loved one for whom you’re providing care passes away. You want your family with you now, and you’ll want their support later.
- Assemble a caregiving team. In my blog entries: Caregiving: The Ultimate Team Sport and Solo Caregiving I address the importance of reaching out to others and tapping into resources that will help you stay sane and healthy while on this caregiving path.
You owe it to yourself, and your loved one, to start taking care of yourself. So place your own well-being at the top of your priority list. I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t regret it.