Planning for a wedding? FUN!!!!!
Putting together an extended vacation to a tropical paradise? EXHILARATING!
Figuring out how to help mom and dad with their increasing care needs? UNEXPECTED!
A recent National Public Radio (NPR) Story: Preparing for a Future that includes Aging Parents addresses the unexpected, and the unplanned for. Whether because we’re kidding ourselves or we really believe it, we oftentimes can’t imagine our parents as anything but the energetic, robust, independent mom and dad with whom we grew up. And if we don’t live near them, we’re falsely sheltered in our assumption that mom and dad are doing just fine; at least they were the last time we saw them during the Holidays! If we’re honest with ourselves, however, we’ll admit that our infrequent visits with the parents shock us greatly as we notice a bit of feebleness in their manner, because as the above story states, “time does what it does.”
Surprisingly, only 13% of some 4,000 U.S. workers surveyed for the 2011 Aflac WorkForces Report considered that the need for long-term care would affect their household. We love to live blissfully ignorant, don’t we? We have so many of our own stresses and pressures associated with running our family household, we’re just not going to entertain having to be on-point with our parents’ needs as well. Guilty!
I became a long-distance caregiver in the Seattle, Washington area for my father who lived in an all-inclusive facility called a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) in Southern Oregon. The first eight years he lived there were worry free because my father was one of those robust parents who was on the path towards living to a ripe old age. He did live to a ripe old age, dying at the age of 89, but from the age of 84 until his death, Alzheimer’s invaded our family’s peaceful existence, and I found that even as a long-distance caregiver, I was on-point 24/7.
Caveat: my parents had purchased long-term care (LTC) insurance so none of us three offspring were financially responsible for my father’s care. But anyone who has been a caregiver for a loved one knows that care isn’t always equated to monetary expenditure. In my case, the constant need to travel to Southern Oregon to monitor his care and be the designated (self-designated) sibling best equipped to coordinate his care with the facility’s staff, lead to my decision to temporarily leave my career, which was, coincidentally, one in the long-term care housing industry. By the way – the answer was not to move him up to the Seattle area. His financial investment in this CCRC up to that point rendered that an untenable option.
Even though I absolutely relished this opportunity to give back to my father – and I truly did – it was very difficult on my household and me. My health temporarily suffered. Everything I did revolved around being available for my father and hopping on a plane at a moment’s notice. I lived in a five year period of dreading the ringing of my home phone or mobile phone because it most likely meant that something needed tending. And getting home and finding NO voicemails in our phone system was cause for celebration.
But enough about me.
Are you prepared for the eventuality of attending to your parents’ care or are you already on that journey?
Or maybe you are already caring for a spouse with medical or cognitive needs. How are you managing that difficult task?
Let us hear from you. Not talking about it won’t make it go away. It’s time to face the piper and be as prepared as we can for the inevitable.
You’ve worked your entire life; you’ve lined up your retirement leisure activities; you’re ready to start the first day of the rest of your life, but instead you start a new job: caregiver to your sibling, spouse, parent, or other family member.
Or perhaps you retired early to take on your caregiver job because there was no way you could do it all: continue your full-time job while moonlighting as your loved one’s caregiver. It doesn’t work or it only works until the caregiver runs out of steam. One way or another, your retirement years sure don’t resemble what you envisioned.
The CNN article, As baby boomers retire, a focus on caregivers, paints a frightening picture but one that is painfully accurate. The highlighted caregiver, Felicia Hudson, said she takes comfort in the following sentiment:
Circumstances do not cause anger, nervousness, worry or depression; it is how we handle situations that allow these adverse moods.
I agree with the above sentiment to a very small degree because let’s face it, the nitty-gritty of a caregiver’s life is filled with anger-inducing depressive circumstances about which I don’t think caregivers should beat themselves up trying to handle with a happy face and a positive attitude. It just doesn’t work that well in the long-term. It’s a well-known fact, and one that is always talked about by the Alzheimer’s Association, that caregivers don’t take care of themselves because they don’t know how, or don’t have the support, to stop trying to do all of their life’s jobs by themselves.
“I’m obligated because my parents took great care of me, and now it’s time for me to take care of them.”
“For better or worse means taking care of my spouse, even though she’s getting the better of me, and I’m getting worse and worse.”
The problem with the above sentiments is that oftentimes the adult child or spouse start to resent the person for whom they are providing care. It’s like going to a job you hate but being held to an unbreakable employment contract; your employer is a loved one with a life-altering or terminal illness; and you’re not getting paid. “Taking care of a loved one in need is reward enough.” No, it’s not.
I’m not bitter, I’m simply realistic. Caregiving is one of the most difficult jobs any of us will hold and we can’t do it all by ourselves. My blog article, Caregiving: The Ultimate Team Sport, encourages each person in a family caregiving situation to create a team of co-caregivers to more effectively get the job done. And please take a look at the other articles found in that same category of Caregiving. I hope you will find encouragement in those articles – some based on my own experience, and some from other caregivers’ shared experiences – especially when a positive attitude and a happy face just isn’t working for you.
- “I’m trying to decide what to do with the rest of my life.”
- “I’m a frustrated fish out of water since retiring two years ago.”
- “I’m desperate to find something to fill my time!”
- Woman in her 80’s: “What am I supposed to do with the rest of my life? I feel helpless and hopeless without worthwhile connections.”
I attended a class four and a half years ago comprised of people in their 50’s through their 80’s. This class was designed to make our Senior years count. I just now stumbled on notes that I took in that class wherein each class member was asked to make a comment about their current state in life. The above four comments are just some of those statements.
Desperation and sadness all around me. I recall now that the mood of this class was one of desperation and sadness as those who yearned for retirement their whole working life found themselves frantically trying to fill their days. Their feelings were summed up in these words:
- lack of purpose
- loss of self
Gerontologist, S. Barkin puts it this way regarding our responsibility to be actively walking through our senior years, and I paraphrase,
What do we want to do for the time remaining in our life? We all should be mining our experiences and the wisdom therein to help with our present and future paths.
As I mentioned in my article, Retirement planning: it’s not what you think, all of us have a history of life skills that should not be put up on a shelf and never used again. Instead we should be retooling those skills into something that is meaningful and enjoyable to us and beneficial to others. The students in my class had many thoughts – mostly unfocused and therefore not very productive – but those thoughts had yet to turn into action.
The first step is to decide what is significant to you and act on it.
Aging well starts with the mind but it’s in the doing that makes it count. We all have a choice when we find ourselves at a loss of purpose: we can stay stuck, or we can actively make a difference in the local community around us. Baby Boomers are the first generation of peoples to have such a long life span. We’re living longer so we have more time to pass our knowledge down to others and use our skills in a valuable way. As the sports company Nike says in one of their ad campaigns: JUST DO IT!