When I asked for ideas for subjects you would like me to tackle, you offered enough to keep me busy for the rest of the year! I genuinely appreciate the input and will be attempting to address all of them.
Several comments asked for posts involving various aspects of managing family and couple relationships:
*How much support to provide for siblings or grown children?
*How do I deal with my aging parents who don't live nearby?
*What are my responsibilities regarding inheritances?
*How do I deal with a just-retired partner who insists on changing how things are handled at home?
How do I manage full-time care for a loved one while caring for my family? How do I find the proper balance?
What follows is a story I received almost twelve years ago from a woman with hands-on experience with the difficult task of managing full-time caregiving while also caring for her own family and preparing for retirement. Any one of those responsibilities would tax us; she took on all three at once. Her name is Sarah Jennings,' and this was her story. I will add some thoughts after she tells us what her life is like.
My husband and I have been caring for my parents in some capacity for almost ten years. When I look back on the past decade, my instincts are to mark the time in relation to those around me. For instance, at that time, our two sons have gone from adolescents to young adults, my father had died and my mother moved in with us.
Rarely do I think about the passage of time from my own perspective; I have been so focused on the maturation that my sons were undergoing, and that of my parents, that I sometimes lose sight of an inevitable and timeless truth.
I am aging, too.
This reality has crept in from time to time over the years, but it is quickly dismissed as there are too many other things to focus on. Does mother need to have her prescriptions picked up? How are the boys doing in college? What's for dinner tonight?
But recently, it has become increasingly difficult to ignore the unavoidable. As I approach 60, and my husband becomes eligible for social security benefits, I realize that I probably haven't been giving our own future enough consideration over the years.
My situation is all too common for caregivers who tend to their elderly parents, particularly those that are also in the midst of rearing their own children into adulthood. Over the years, I have devoured literature related to aging, scoured the Internet for tips and advice on managing a household that includes an older parent, and shared my knowledge and expertise on coping with the stress and difficulties of caregiving.
Yet, I've seldom devoted much thought and energy toward planning for my own future.
Upon reflection, I do feel very fortunate that this issue comes up for me in a positive light – my husband has been offered an early retirement package – as opposed to a devastating medical diagnosis or something of that nature.
But I do admit to feeling somewhat blindsided by the thoughts of having to deal with change in my husband's and my life. For so long, my concerns have been on helping my close loved ones adapt to the changes in their lives, that it makes me feel that I've become ill-prepared to deal with them in my own life.
In truth, we're in a better position than many others dealing with similar issues. For instance,· I'm fortunate to have a husband that is a bit more prudent with forethought than I am, so our retirement investments appear to be relatively secure.
We're also fortunate to not have to take a financial hit with the caregiving, as my parents were financially secure enough that they have been able to contribute to the costs of the care we provide.
I have a loving relationship with my mother and have (for the most part) been able to control the feelings of resentment that overcome many caregivers who choose to put their own lives on hold to care for aging loved ones. It took some time to learn how to effectively communicate with my mother, but once I did, it made a world of difference. And as I said before, my husband and I (as well as our two boys), have been fortunate to be healthy and happy as we progress toward the latter stages of our lives.
But just because our situation is more stable than some, it doesn't mean it isn't fraught with challenges and difficulties. I have to force myself to think of our future and ensure that my caregiving remains committed and loving, without turning into full-blown martyrdom. The truth is that my husband and I have always had ideas about what we would want to do with our lives once we were ready to retire. Initially, those plans did not include my 84-year-old mother.
I'm learning that I have to plan for all eventualities, even if those plans have to be scrapped by circumstances nobody could have reasonably foreseen. For instance, I've recently had a discussion with my mother about the possibility that at some point in the future (let's say five years from now), if she is still – God willing – with us, we may have to look into a senior living community. Maybe that will happen, or perhaps it won't, but we want to be as flexible in our retirement as possible.
I still have a lot of work to do mentally to get my mind around the idea that I am also getting older and will soon be dealing with the same issues my parents went through just 20 or so years ago. In the meantime, I'll continue to practice effective communication with my mother, husband, and children, so we can all be prepared to tackle whatever the future throws at us together.
For more, here is a link to an excellent resource on how to manage caregiving without putting you in financial difficulty.
As we slip from being caregivers to being cared for, communication and financial stability seem to be keys to a healthy relationship with our loved ones.ReplyDelete
I have receieved too many panicked emails from folks who have not set up solid lines of communication, responsibilities, and expectations, and then something unexpected happens. You are right: preparation ahead of time is a must.Delete
Exactly, that was my take away from her story. We are working on those things now instead of a panic later. Instead of money set aside for a second house, we are looking at money for an independent apartment near our oldest.Delete
Whatever the future holds, your foresight will pay tremendous dividends. Our path to a move to a CCRC sometime in the next 3-4 years is coming together well.Delete
Thanks for this. Unfortunately our family members said we kids could take care of it when something happened. They didn’t want to talk about it. And, of course, something has happened and they are no longer able to live independently. So we had to scramble like so many people do.ReplyDelete
Humans struggle with a tendency to think "it won't happen to me" even if the odds are it will. I wish you and your siblings good luck and lots of patience.Delete
I resonated with the featured story.Delete
I retired in 2009. I had been very involved assisting my father (as they lived nearby) with the care of my mother, in failing health for at least the previous 5 years. My mother passed in 2012 and then my care shifted to my father, whose frailty increased rapidly after the loss of my mother. He gradually fell into dementia, and my caregiving for him would last nearly 10 more years. He died from Covid in his care facility in 2021. He was 95 years old. I was 68. I remember suddenly wondering where the last decade and a half of my life had gone. I had not lived "my life" for a long time, and to be honest I have yet to fully recover, even if I could determine what "recovery" means. My sibling was of little help during this period, claiming that "it is too stressful to see my parents in this condition." I realize I am still trying to find total compassion and forgiveness for that as well. I am confident I will.
Ultimately, this is life. It unfolds. And we deal with it in the best way we can. Many people quietly make sacrifices for others big and small every day. Gratitude toward my parents for all they did for me carried me through for the most part, but it was hard sometimes. Fortunately I have a group of close friends from my high school days and we remain very much in each other's lives (as I have spoken of before). Some of them were facing the same challenges and so we could talk-- complain, cry, express anger and frustration... together. It helped a lot, so reach out if you can.
My heart, compassion and best wishes go out to any and all who face these challenges.
Rick in Oregon
Yours is an often-told story of one family member finding themselves in a situation that has major unintended consequenced.Delete
But, I am so happy you shared with us, Rick, because you found yourself rising to the occasion with grace and love. Yes, it was hard and you lacked support from family members who should have been there to share some of the load.
As you say, life unfolds and we deal with it the best we can. Ultimately, this is a story of gratitude and compassion.
Rick, I would love to hear how your parent’s journey has helped you in preparing for your journey into older age. How are you setting things up for people to help you? I think I struggle with this issue the most. My mother was “under care” for ten years- and still it was a ton of work for my sister.Delete
I have given a lot of thought about what may be ahead for me, given my experience with my parents. I would have a lot to say, so probably too much of a diversion from the theme of Bob's current post and questions. I did suggest to Bob at one point having a specific discussion about these challenges and plans for those who are single, widowed, divorced, and/or childless and those with minimal, absent, or unwilling family to turn to, so maybe that can happen at some point. There are solutions, but they can be complex with many twists and turns in the social, religious/spiritual, financial and practical realms. I worry less about myself, and more about those who do not have the financial resources or support to have any real options.
Rick in Oregon
Rick: yes a post about the issues you raised will happen. This whole area is almost an entire blog focus on its own.Delete
I might begin with an interview with you, if you are open to such a public airing.
Sure, send me some questions if you like. I may not be able to answer all, but if my experience and/or outlook could help others I am more than happy to share. I think you have my email?
Rick in Oregon
This seems like an appropriate time to appeal to anyone who does not have a will, a Power of Attorney (POA) and a Healthcare Proxy to give serious thought to these documents. An intelligent, highly independent and stubborn aunt of mine refused to allow anyone (including her attorney and accountant) access to her personal business, despite the fact that her husband, her only child and all of her siblings had predeceased her. When she slipped into dementia, my cousin and I had to go to court to have her declared incompetent and the two of us appointed as guardians. Without that process, we couldn't manage her finances or even make healthcare decisions for her. It was a nightmare. Caregiving is difficult and draining enough without having to do battle in order to effect it. Lack of communication and distrust of everyone made it impossible. It was a very sad situation - one I would not wish on any family.ReplyDelete
A large star is attached to your point, Mary. The legal aspects are absolutely critical in providing care for someone else. To not do so is an absolutely irresponsible position to take.Delete
Agsin, there is a blog post or two about legal preparation just waiting to be written.
My mom has been in supportive living going on 4 yrs. My sister & I gently confronted her with her failing capacity & surprisingly, she agreed to the move after years of saying she would never move. Tending to her house after her move proved that the move was probably overdue. I believe mom knew at some level. I'm the one child geographically close so the "caretaking" role falls to me. Thankfully mom had taken care of her finances allowing me access to her bank accounts but we had to encourage her to do her will, POA & personal directive upon her move. These issues are time consuming and better handled proactively vs in crisis management. One of my sister's has worked as a legal secretary for years & her experience was helpful. I'm the retired nurse so healthcare management falls to me. I'm also "farm girl strong" meaning that I'll do what needs doing & being geographically close, the day-to- day falls to me including managing her rural property in her absence in addition to mine. Like Rick, I work on finding compassion & forgiveness for those family members who don't or won't step up. I have a very supportive circle. I consider myself part of the team that looks after my mom. There are regular care conferences. When I need a break, I take it. It takes a village to raise a child & it takes a village to care for an old person. I was never the golden child & yet I've heard my mom say more than once - you're a good nurse & you're a good daughter. I've learned a lot in the past 4 years & I plan to be proactive about my aging process.ReplyDelete
I find stories like yours and others to be so uplifting. It takes a village to care for someone is the perfect way to express what must happen.Delete
Family, friends, professional health care, and legal professionals are all part of the foundation. Humans working to help and care for others is what makes life worth living.
I have heard so many of my peers when they are talking about their own homes saying "They'll take me out of here in a box". It is, I think, what we all pretty much want, living our own independent lives to the end, but it's often unrealistic. We all like to believe that as we age we'll stay pretty much as we are, maybe a few more aches and pains, a little slower in our gait perhaps, but mostly the same. It usually doesn't go like that.ReplyDelete
My next door neighbour is 93, still in her own home and likes to say she's still independent. I guess technically she is but one of her 3 children comes by every day to check on her, look after what needs to be looked after, shovel the driveway in the winter and cut the grass in the summer, pay the bills, buy the groceries, and so on. She's independent in name only and is imposing her independence on her children that have families of their own to look after.
Like you Bob, if we live that long, we will be moving to a place with supports. It's hard enough for young families today without them need to look after us on a daily basis as well.
There is real independent living and then the type your neighbor is living, which is more existing on the help and charity of others. None of us wants to think about our own mortality, but to deny it shifts lots of burdens to others. And, by ignoring what the passage of years does to our faculties, the slide downhill can occur much faster.Delete
I was glad to learn that my son-in-law's dad is now getting some regular in-apartment nursing help. He has Parkinson's and it is all really too much for his wife to deal with alone. My daughter and husband have been making three-times-a-day trips to help with meds and so forth. Now, with the regular visit by the nurse, those duties can be taken from them.
My mom got left having to work through the unfinished business of her second husband when he died and it was a real eye opener. (He was one of 12 siblings, many of them still alive, whose parents -- long deceased -- still technically owned the home he lived in! What a mess.) She is 91 now and has been diligent about her affairs. We are fortunate in that she is able to still live alone (after outliving three husbands), and she gave up driving and sold her car this year with no prompting. That said, she needs help with housecleaning, some grocery shopping, and going anywhere really. I have one brother and one niece who live near her in my tiny former hometown, and I'm grateful they are willing to help her.ReplyDelete
The email you shared really touched me, Bob. Sarah Jennings is really going the extra mile and I admire her. One of the volunteer services our hospice provides is caregiver relief. I have done this for a few patients and confirmed (even after watching my mom do this three times) that caregiving is a really, really difficult task for anyone. And it's often in the elderly, so the caregiver often struggles with their own aging and health issues in addition to the grief of watching their loved one decline. No easy answers. But if one can afford a place with supports in place, it's a real blessing.
Respite care for those who give so much day after day is absolutely critical to the well-being of the caregiver. We just can't deal with all the problems and hassles day after day without the help of someone else to take over, even if only for part of one day. Based on the stories above and other comments, you are blessed to have siblings and a niece willing to help mom.Delete
I think our culture's overwhelmingly negative view of aging increases the likelihood that people will be in denial about their own aging and not make realistic plans for when they need care. I was very grateful that my own mother was a clear-eyed realist about this. She was in her early eighties when my father was diagnosed with a terminal cancer. After several months, he made the decision to go into a nursing home because he felt his care was too hard on my mother. She visited him there every day until his death 7 months later. Even more importantly, she was very intentional about dividing up responsibility for back-up support among their five children, with attention to each child's strengths, weaknesses and situation, so that no one felt either overwhelmed or left out of the loop. She did the same when her own final illness came around seven years later.ReplyDelete
Mom provided an excellent model for all of us. The "clear-eyed realist" approach is something that seems so obvious but is so tough to do.Delete
Thank you for opening up a dialog on this important topic. As a relatively healthy, recent widow, I look forward to reading future posts and real-life comments about the experiences of your readership.ReplyDelete
Yes, I am enjoying the free exchange of life stories and experiences, too. Being prepared for what may come is both responsible and loving.Delete
My experience with parents was brief. Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer (I was 33). Mom was just 70. Dad declined treatment (I concurred w his choice). He remained home and when he was unable to care for himself I called in hospice/home care and 14d later he died (and not the usual ugly lung cancer death I was expecting). Mom was diagnosed w bladder cancer 13y later. My sister and I cared for her at home. We split the workweek and our employers were gracious. Mom was so grateful and thanked each of us every night when we got her settled in bed. 7weeks later she died. It may sound odd to feel grateful for my parents demise but for all I've seen they were both very lucky indeed. (I'm an RN).ReplyDelete
As for us, we have no children and no expectation of family providing any care. We've saved significantly for our ending-whatever and whenever that may be. We remodeled when we were just 42. I currently use the space for my hobbies. The intention is to have a large room for live-in caregiver should that time arrive.
I encourage readers to read the Good Life by Scott and Helen Nearing. I think Scott had the right idea for end-of-life.
I'm interested to read what others w/o children have planned.
The Nearing book about 60 years of self-sufficient living is a subject I always find fascinating.Delete
The topic of how to deal with aging and care if there is no family nearby to help is one deserving of a future post.