How to Handle the Stress of Seeing Parent's Health Decline
You see your mother only several times a year because you live out-of-state. Each time you see Mom, you notice that she moves slower, seems weaker, and remembers less. Although planning Mom’s care for her declining physical status is stressful, actually seeing the physical deterioration may be the most difficult thing to handle.
When thinking about aging, we do not see ourselves age as easily as others do, particularly those we do not see regularly. It is difficult to see a parent decline, and with each visit you will grieve a little bit. It may also be a stark reminder of your own mortality. We all have this wish to grow up, be an adult, and be independent; but we wish for our parents to stay the way they are. “No changes needed there.” We know they will grow old, but that change is not desired.
You may get to a point where you feel that every time you visit your parents, it may be the last time Mom or Dad will be able to -------------- (fill in the blank.)
So what do you do to make the visits fully enjoyable rather than a sad pilgrimage?
Although it may be difficult, you must first attempt to change your thinking. Accepting the truth will help to liberate your emotions. You must begin to expect some level of decline when entering your parents’ home. The first hour or so of visiting can jar you, but if you prepare for some change, you will be less surprised when you do see it. Think of it this way: it would be quite the surprise if they looked any younger or moved any faster, wouldn’t it? Realize that your parent sees you aging as well, so it goes both ways.
Next, plan to make each visit a celebration, rather than a sad reality check for yourself. Fill your days with the pleasure of conversation, reflection, and discovery. Take your parent for a drive, visit a park, grocery shop together, visit relatives, or sip iced tea in lawn chairs while sitting in the yard. Talk about books, movies, growing up, parenting, or historical events. Listen and learn from Mom or Dad.
What most of us who have lost a parent wish for most is to have learned more about who are parents were and their history. We want answers to the questions we wish we asked. While your parent is still with you, take the time to be grateful for his or her continued life and time with you. If you can simply accept that you will see some level of decline each time you are with your parent, you will be much more likely to enjoy your time with them and feel comfort away from them.
Now, take this advice as an invitation for the opportunity to spend time enjoying the present rather than focusing on future loss.
Family Caregiving Advice Column
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