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.