Many women who are in their fifties and beyond are caring for elderly parents or other family members. Even if you’re a daughter who always expected to fulfill this role, the timing isn’t always ideal. The actual job can be much more demanding and difficult than you ever imagined. On the other hand, caregiving can be an opportunity to step up and heal old wounds. It can even make a loved one’s experience more satisfying and comforting.
Over the years, I assumed this role for both of my parents in varying degrees. As it turned out, my mother got sick, went to the hospital, and passed away six weeks later. Cause of death: complications resulting from exploratory surgery. When it looked like she wasn’t going to recover, I flew from California to Ohio to join my father in keeping vigil by her side. My mother lived long enough to acknowledge their 60th wedding anniversary before she died.
A couple of months later, my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. For the next year, I left our two teenagers and my husband to fend for themselves. I flew back and forth as often as possible to be with him. I loved my dad and wanted to be with him. Because I couldn’t always plan these trips enough in advance to get a good deal on flights, I often begged and borrowed air miles from family and friends who were frequent flyers.
Caregiving doesn’t have to be a burden if you take time to create a support team and ask for help.
Dad was not ready to die. He was willing to put his affairs in order while he still felt good enough to go out. Since my mom was gone and I’m their only child, it was simply a matter of adding my name to the bank accounts, the condo, the car, and his stocks.
A man of few words, my dad said I didn’t have to do anything but be around. When he was awake, I’d watch TV with him (poker, golf, and tennis were his favorites) or read him a Janet Evanovich mystery. When he napped, I got things done. I went grocery shopping and planned meals, but most of all, my priority was ensuring that my dad was well cared for whether I was around or not.
My first call was to Hospice. It was essential that he had nurses and visitors that he liked to check in on him. Then, I called Meals on Wheels. I had two reasons for that. One was to have a friendly person drop food off every day, and the other was to provide him with something he might eat. The back-up plan was his older sister, who drove across town every day to have supper with him.
Next I contacted Jewish Family Service, which arranged for housekeeping. I then called my dad’s poker buddies—guys he’d grown up with—to make sure they continued to visit. After I returned home, I called my dad’s house daily to ask the Hospice nurse how things were going.
If you end up caring for your parents or another loved one, don’t think you have to do it alone.
Jan Fishler, MA, is currently co-authoring a new book, Don’t Stop Now, Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life (DontStopNow.us). She is also the author of Searching for Jane, Finding Myself (An Adoption Memoir), and has written several articles about alternative health and PTSD. You can learn more about Jan at www.JanFishler.net.