Unfortunately I am referring to my ageing parents. Now I am sure that many of you “Baby Boomers” out there will be able to relate to what I am about to share with you about my ageing parents. I am dealing with their situation living almost 6000 miles away.
I just returned from a three-week, unplanned and hastily arranged trip to take care of my parents in Southern California. I had received a call from my dad and he sounded very weak. He was taking longer than usual to recover from a recent stay in hospital. This caused him to go into a down mood, not wanting to eat, questioning whether he wants to continue with dialysis three days a week, and not seeing a very bright future. This in turn was affecting my mom who was becoming emotional about their situation. She has Parkinson’s disease and it affects her coping with her own situation as well as my dad’s. This left them both hanging on the edge, not being able to deal with their declining health and their everyday life. I decided that I had to go home immediately and get them back on track. This is where the roles reversed.
As soon as I walked through the door my dad greeted me with a hug and kiss and said “I do not know how you are going to do take care of everything and get us back on track,” to which I replied, “You may not see the light at the end of the tunnel today but by the time I leave you will be seeing a rainbow at the end of the tunnel” (I love rainbows). That is when I knew that I had a big job ahead of me, and I came ready to deal with it head on. My dad was overwhelmed and asked me to take over and do whatever it was going to take to get things back in order and get them thinking about life again instead of talking about and preparing for death.
I began with getting their finances in order, then arranging for more hours of a home care giver, as well as organising their house, beginning with a garage containing a small mountain of 30 years of stuff to sift and sort through, and a home office in the same condition. Then on to preparing dinner and doing their food shopping. My mom needed help getting dressed, and at night I would help her get ready for bed, help her get into the bed and then tuck her in, just like a little girl, as she is only 5 feet tall and quite little. Sometimes I would lay down next to her and we would tell stories until she fell asleep.
My next task was to have my dad regain his confidence in driving, since he had not driven the car in a few weeks due to his lack of strength and energy from being in the hospital. He was now having physical therapy at home to restore his mobility. The therapist said that he could start driving again and get his independence back. It was a Sunday and we put my mom in the back seat of the car, joking with her that dad was going to be Driving Miss Daisy around the neighbourhood, and she loved that idea. I decided to take my dad driving to the same parking lot that my mom took me to when she taught me how to drive when I was fifteen years old.
I also spent many hours of quality time with them, reminiscing about when I was a little girl, and of all of the things that we did as a family when my two sons, their grandsons Jonathan and Joshua, were little and the impact that they had on their lives. We went through photo albums and envelopes of pictures remembering all of the memories that we had created as a very close family, sharing vacations and holidays and everything in between. I wanted to remind them of the great life that they both have had and the things that they do have to look forward to, as in great-grandchildren being the most important. How much we all love them and want them to continue to be here to continue creating family memories.
As we got into the second week I had taken care of most of the important stuff and they were able to relax a bit for us to have some fun together. My mom and I sang songs as I played the piano (she loves to hear me play the piano). My dad and I got into some conversations about things that are of interest to him.
It felt as if I did a year’s worth of work in just three weeks.
Since returning to England, I call them every day. I have been home seven times in the last three and a half years and I am ready to jump on a plane at any time that they need me.
I have done it before in less than 24 hours. My dad was to have a routine surgery that turned into an emergency. He called me at 6 pm from his hospital room in California and by 5pm the next day, I was in his hospital room with him before they took him to surgery. It took a lot of coordinating and was a very long and stressful trip for me but I did it.
It feels as if I am the parent now and they are the children. They have been there for me throughout my life and I plan on being there for them for as long as they need me.