The reality is that I had several talks with my parents encouraging them to simplify their lives by downsizing and finding a place where life could be easier for them.
Sadly, I feel that I have been grieving my parents for over a decade. They had been slowly killing themselves with complications from morbid obesity and diabetes. It’s been devastating to watch and frustrating to witness the pain their addictions with food and sedentary lifestyles have caused themselves and their families.
Usually the little ‘talks’ happened as a result of a cry for help call from my dad. My dad and I spoke over the phone probably about 75% of the total time I spoke to my parents, that is until he passed last August. He would say ‘I just don’t know what to do about your mother’ or he’d add ‘she just can’t do much for herself anymore’. He was tired of being so busy and worrying so much about my mom and my developmentally disabled 51 year old brother who also lived with him. They were all 6 hours away from the closest family members. They had a ‘helper’ or Godsend we called her come in about 6 days a week for 3 or 4 hours but really they were on their own most of the time. I would listen to dad and offer my consistent words of wisdom that I didn’t know how he did it and that it was time to downsize and get more help. One time when my folks came to visit me, I got them to tour a nearby ranch condo for seniors. I really thought they needed something where they had meals and caregivers on site but I was just excited that they were entertaining the thought of getting closer to family and simplifying. My parents had every excuse as to why they couldn’t move: the traffic was too bad, their doctors where ‘down there’, but mostly it came down to that they were living in their ‘dream home’ on the ocean. This is what they worked for their whole lives and looked forward to but sadly over the past 10 or more years, they haven’t been able to enjoy the beach except from the view of their condo windows.
Over the years, my parents have resisted moving. Everyone saw the need, except for them. Family members at reunions would pull each of us aside to let us know that something had to be done. Last year, mom and dad got tired of every one’s suggestions and adamantly told us they were going to live the rest of their lives in their beach condo and we just needed to accept it.
Then the hospital visits became recurring. We would take turns helping out for visits to get my dad’s heart shocked, his ruptured ulcer repaired, mom’s recent respiratory virus that went to long with COPD, shoulder surgery, and so on. There are too many visits and health scares to even recall. All of these visits had a direct impact on our personal lives. Once I missed Easter and on another occasion my son’s birthday week not to mention the countless days from work.
In the spring of 2014, my mom was hospitalized. They let yet another respiratory infection go too long and she got so short of breath she took an ambulance to the ER and they put her on a respirator. We were all scared that this was the last time for my mom. But, after weeks in the hospital and in rehabilitation, she was released for home.
On one of these visits to help with mom, I remember having a late night steak dinner with my dad and a tough heart to heart. He was scared and he was crying and once again asked me what to do. I told him that the kids couldn’t continue to drop everything and come help them and that it was killing us to be so far away when they needed us. I pleaded once again for him to sell the condo and move closer to where 3 of the 6 kids lived so we could drop by and assist. He finally admitted to me in this conversation that if mom couldn’t get back to at least the way she was before she was hospitalized (i.e. mobile with a walker), he would convince her to move. My mom is a fighter and she fought back to be just ‘good enough’ to get by.
Mom was only home a few weeks, when my dad was hospitalized. Thankfully my Aunt and Uncle were there and encouraged him to see a doctor and took him to the hospital. He was initially diagnosed with being ‘over hydrated’ which I had to research because I never heard of such a thing. This rapidly progressed into his body being septic (i.e. an serious blood stream infection). My dad’s lungs and kidneys struggled. The doctor’s explained that the lungs like to be dry but the kidneys like to be wet. He already had a chronic heart condition so his heart was working so hard. He was so hot from just lying in bed breathing that he had a cool rag on him constantly and a fan blowing straight on him. He was put on the respirator 3 or 4 times. He spent the last week of his life in hospice and thankfully, my mom, my siblings and I were able to be with him in his final hours. We were all surprised that my dad passed away before my mom. Of the two of them, he was the primary caregiver. He made the appointments, paid the bills, and had the mobility to move around and run errands. After going through this experience, I understand that losing the caregiver first is a common scenario as it is hard for one senior to constantly care for another.
Once dad passed, the thought of leaving mom a half a day’s drive from family just wasn’t an option any of us could consider. My siblings and I brainstormed many scenarios but we all knew that we had missed so much work and time with our immediate families that we had to move fast. I remember I was assisting with my mom’s leg circulation treatment when the conversation came up. She wanted to know what was going to happen. My sisters were close by for support. As I was lying at her feet, I tearfully told her it ‘was time.’ That we needed to be around her as much as she needed us for physical and mental support. That their decision to live at a distance was taking such a toll on all of us and our families were suffering. This finally got her to respond. She fought the loss of control and tried in ways to convince us she could live on her own independently but we gave example after example how this just couldn’t be. So many swollen eyes that night. It was tough enough to lose our leading man two days earlier and now we had so much to do to get mom and my brother situated. Where would we start??
I get the DailyOm emails and this one called Aging Parents in particular struck a chord with me. Watching your parents age and decline in health has definitely made me think about my own mortality and how I plan to live out the rest of my life.