Accepting the Reality of Aging Parents

My 86-year-old father has arthritis in his back so badly that he cannot stand up straight. When I visited him this past weekend his back was more bent over than ever. And it had only been three weeks since my last visit.

The significance of the issues with my father’s back first came to my radar when my now husband, Dean and I took my father and mother to a rustic Northern California coastal resort to celebrate his 80th birthday, over 6 years ago. It was mid-January, and we were blessed to have seaside temperatures in the sunny 70s, when a bank of fog and wind would typically cool the weather into the 50s. I felt that our time together had been given a gift.

Recognizing the Pain

After we checked in to the hotel, we walked our luggage up the stairs from the open-air lobby to our second-floor rooms.  This became my first experience in recognizing that my father was beginning to struggle with his physical condition. He was struggling to climb the stairs that would lead us to our rooms. My father’s gestures showed that he was frustrated by these challenges. The rest of us didn’t bring any attention to it.

Once we all got to our adjacent rooms, we had a wonderful time being together. We chatted about lots of different topics, something that visits with the responsibilities of home didn’t come as easily.

Yet at the time I didn’t fully apprehend the reality of what was taking place. It was too new to me. We were moving into a new phase.

Dean and I got married nine months later.  Throughout the course of our reception, I observed my father in a visible state of physical pain. It was the first time I’d seen him use a cane in public. As much as I know he loved me and his then new son-in-law, his physical pain that day had overridden his joy.

Empathy of Pain

My latest visit with my parents enabled me to recognize once again that my father is living in a state of chronic pain. His quality of life is clearly not good, and my mother lovingly bears the burden of caretaker. She admits that she is exhausted all the time taking care of my father and all the household needs. My father doesn’t complain, yet it’s clear from his disposition that he is not happy about the limitations of his physical condition.

A Turning Point

I now recognize that this is a challenge for my family that isn’t going away. I cannot turn my head, hoping it will go away.  I need to put energy towards educating myself to help my parents get through the health issues ahead of them. While I clearly need to be a greater physical presence in their lives, I need to develop a fuller plan.

Last night on the phone I told my mother that I recognized how much she did and acknowledged that she needed help. She told me that it was her job and that she would let me know when she needed help. She’s never been one to have household help. The gardener who has mowed their lawn over the last decade has been the extent of their outside help.

What to Do Now

I’ve committed to spend more time with my parents to not only support them, but to get a better picture of what’s going on with them. From that will come the discovery of what their insurance covers and all of that stuff. My parents walked me through this some 15 years ago, a time where I felt the need to know was so far in the future that I didn’t take good notes.

I’ve got to step up to the plate now.

Any insights you can offer on your own experiences would be great.

Turning the Chapter With Elderly Parents

This past Sunday my husband Dean and I went down to my parents’ house to do some much-needed work in their backyard.

My dad is 85 and my mom 83. My dad has been suffering with bad arthritis in his back for the last 8 years and can no longer stand upright. He spent his career as a longshoreman and until the last decade or so, had always been a physically strong man. Now he can no longer reach the shelf above the refrigerator to pull out the bottle of bourbon for their nightly Manhattan.

My mom has essentially become his caretaker since my dad is legally blind in one eye and can’t drive. She does all the shopping, cooking, and most of the household chores. She’s recently developed an issue with her sciatic nerve and is walking with great pain herself.

I’ve been lucky to have had an enjoyable relationship with both my parents and this new reality is heart-wrenching to watch. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about their physical conditions since the visit on Sunday.

Treasuring the Memories

I have wonderful memories of my parents visiting me when I moved from California to New England in my 30s. From Cape Cod to the southern coast of Maine to Montreal, we were explorers of a new world together. It was a time of sharing different pleasures that you rarely experience in the Bay Area. Like picking up steamers or lobsters for dinner, or just sitting on the front porch relaxing into life at the end of a long summer day.

When I moved back to California I was blessed to have the opportunity to buy a modest waterfront condo which became the foundation for many good times on my deck. We would enjoy each other’s company for hours as we watched the wildlife and the boats cruise by.

I’ll never forget the delightfully surprised look on their faces when I opened my front door to welcome them to their 50th anniversary party where 50 friends and family were waiting inside.

Accepting What We Can’t Change

This latest visit has been a reminder to me that we should never take anything for granted. Things change, and we need to come up with a way to respond to and deal with each new reality. Just like we’re living now in pandemic times. We want things to be like they used to, but we don’t have total control over it.

For me with my parents, the new reality is that my mother really needs some support. The quality of both of their lives is not good. I can pretend it’s not happening, or I can take action.

My parents live 30 miles away. While that doesn’t sound like much, it’s an hour’s drive each way in brutal San Francisco traffic. I can’t quickly pop over to put the air conditioner hose in their family room window when the weather forecast points north.

I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that I need to start to develop a plan to see that they get the care they need. I need to be there for them more. It’s a new chapter and I need to step to the plate.

Demonstrating Love in a COVID-19 World

After we finished our yard chores my dad was urging me to sit across the couch from him in the family room. Yet in a COVID-19 mindset I kept my distance, instead standing in the kitchen some 6+ feet from both my mom and dad.

Looking back I feel bad about my response. Who knows how many more opportunities I’ll have to share with the people who have been there for me my entire life?

We are living in a time where we need to adjust how we express love to the people who mean the most to us. I’ve begun to call them more frequently to demonstrate that I care. I’ve told them that I miss hugging them.

Next time I visit my parents I want to focus more on eye contact. If I can’t touch them with my body, I can connect with them from the windows to my soul.

Stay well,
Susan