“Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” Just like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, I feel like a visitor in a new land of aging and disability. The Fourth of July has come and gone and I realized I am simultaneously celebrating INDEPENDENCE while mourning dependence. Every time my little guy takes steps forward in his growing independence, I smile. Every time my parents decline in their health and abilities, I lower my head and feel sad. Nobody likes to celebrate dependence.
I received a difficult phone call the other day from my sister in California. Dad had suffered three strokes and continues to decline in his battle against dementia. Mom has a few physical limitations. But neither of my parents can drive or cook. They need help if they want to go to Church or satisfy a craving for a Root Beer Float or simply run an errand to the post office. Simple things for you and me, but not for them.
We all know our parents will one day slow down and enter this “place” with new boundaries and strange customs. They will discover what was once familiar and easy to accomplish is now foreign and challenging. They will face many obstacles on the road. Toss in some Medicare forms and everyone has Jet Lag and a headache!
I want to share something with you. I have been doing something lately that makes my life a little bit easier. Rather than helping family and friends in the way I think they need my help, I have been asking before doing. Then I really listen to what they have to say. Try it. We don’t always know what is best for others.
I used this approach with my sister (who is the caregiver of my parents), and I found she just wanted me to listen to her frustration and sadness. My oldest brother was filled with helplessness because he too lives far away and wanted to know what to do to help. I told him I didn’t know the right answer, but I did know he should call Mom and ask her first.
I told him one other thing I did know, “We can love them and support them and research services and send photos and cards and share stories about the grandchildren. We can involve them in our lives, stay connected, visit and then help directly when they ask for it.”
Yes, visiting the land of aging and disability is happening to our family, but it is literally happening to our parents, and one thing we can do is gently hold their hand through their journey and let them know we are walking with them.
If you know someone who needs help, young or old, please ask them directly, “How can I help? Then listen. You may find a better way to help them than you imagined.