CARING FOR ELDERLY PARENTS
There must be thousands of people in the U.K. who now care for elderly parents. Although every family is unique there may be aspects of my family’s situation that will “ring bells” with others. In various and changing ways my parents have cared for their three children since we were born and now it’s time for them to be cared for.
Both my brother and sister have children and grandchildren of their own. Fortunately my brother’s work place is only 10 minutes drive from my parents’ home, so he pops in two or three times a week during his lunch break and gets their shopping for them. My sister and her husband visit about once every couple of months and take them out to a Garden Centre or something similar.
Being an unmarried daughter, I am able to stay with them during the school holidays and get essential repairs and alterations done to the house, take them for medical appointments etc. As their children, we have shared the caring role and so far Mum and Dad have been able to continue living independently in their own home.
A couple of years ago my parents celebrated their Diamond Wedding Anniversary. We enjoyed a wonderful family reunion at a hotel in Wales and we have great photos (and a card from the Queen!) to remind us of the occasion, but day-to-day living can be a very lonely and limited experience, especially for Mum, as she and Dad are mostly confined to the house.
Seven years ago Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease; his decline has been slow but inevitable and three years ago Mum had a knee replacement. I was able to look after Dad while Mum was in hospital but a month after the operation I had to return to my work here in Upton, 200 miles away. This was very difficult as Mum, although back home, was still in great pain and I was leaving her to care for my father alone. Sadly, even three years later, the knee replacement has not resulted in freedom from pain or greater mobility as we had hoped.
The day before an outing Mum gets my father ready; showering him, shaving him, cleaning his teeth, dressing him and then, on the day of the outing itself, persuading him to leave the house. This can be the most difficult part of all because he is always reluctant to go but once we arrive at our destination he thoroughly enjoys himself (as long as Mum is nearby) chatting , singing and reciting poetry to anyone who has the time to listen! But when we get back home he remembers nothing about it. For Mum, of course, these outings are an essential contact with the wider world.
Occasionally Mum admits that she finds it tough going. We all know that Dad’s memory will continue to deteriorate and with it, his ability to read, write, and feed himself. We have tried to prepare Mum for changes in the future but it is not easy for her to accept suggestions made by other people. “If I were the one with Alzheimer’s I know your father would look after me,” she says, and we all know it’s true.
Sometimes Mum looses her temper with Dad’s constant repetitions and yells “Shut up!" A few minutes later she apologises: “I’m sorry I was nasty to you just now.” “Nasty?” he replies in surprise, having entirely forgotten the incident, “You’re never nasty to me! You’re the most precious girl in the world and I love you.”
It’s both heart-warming and heart-breaking to witness the love my parents have for each other. All sorts of questions crowd my mind and I imagine all sorts of scenarios …
What if Mum dies first?
What if Dad dies first?
What if there’s a fire or an accident?
When I share my concerns with God, it’s as if He says, “Fear not, I am with you and with Mum and Dad in this present situation and I’ll be with you as the future unfolds, please keep sharing your concerns and fears with me as we walk this experience together.” As I pray it becomes clear that some of my thoughts are worth considering and discussing, other ideas can be dismissed at once.
One of the most important things I’ve learnt is to notice the lovely and the amusing moments my parents and I share, to savour them and enjoy the time God is giving us together. This doesn’t stop me being aware of my father’s confusion and my mother’s pain but it enables me to do as Psalm 118 v24 advises: “This is the day The Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!”