This holiday season, I'd like to share about my personal experience as a mid-lifer facing and caring for my physically declining elder parents.
The Journey Home
For Thanksgiving this year, I went home to Connecticut to be with my family. My focus and the main theme for this week-long trip went way beyond the one day of festivities. I was primarily there to assist my ailing elder parents. To do some serious cleaning and clearing inside their large home, and to realistically assess their states of health and next steps for their care.
It was a sobering experience to say the least, bittersweet at best, with many epiphanous ponderings about life, love, acceptance, death, and what it really means to live a healthy and meaningful life.
It was also a wonderful time to reunite with one of my two sisters who lives within one hour from our parents, and who joined forces with me to take on this monumental parental care project. We spent the three days before Turkey Day on task at our childhood home. While keeping our frail, 86-year-old Dad at bay as he interrogated us over every old knick-knack, sock, and outdated magazine clipping that we attempted to file, toss, or give away, and while keeping our dear, sweet, dementia-altered 83-year-old Mom close by to keep us company -- my sister and I laughed, cried, grimaced, and reminisced as we sorted through decades of stuff, including books, clothing, photos, lots of memorabilia, our parent's precious wedding album from the 40's which included a breathtaking photo of Mom singing at her reception, foreign currency collections from their many trips abroad, Mom's extensive and impeccably matched wardrobe, including her 80's dresses with the big shoulder pads (remember?!), knitting, needlepoint, Dad's instrument and invention paperwork, a lock of my hair from 1962, and my sister's Ken doll from the 60's... who we found naked and missing an arm. Oh my God, that caused us to laugh so hard we cried! I remember changing Ken's hair color with a magic marker when I was about eight; think my sister almost killed me!
Next Steps: Short Term and Long Term Care
There's really too much to share here regarding all of our family stories, myths, and unique dysfunctions, financial considerations, and challenging behaviors like our Dad's utter resistance to outside care, but suffice it to say that both of my sisters and I have been putting a lot of time, research, and thoughtful consideration into the next steps for our parent's care. We've arranged geriatric home care for them, and have researched the transition into a nursing home or assisted living for the long term. Spending those three very full days with them was the best thing my sister and I could have done, for several reasons, but mainly because we were directly faced with the reality of their states of physical and mental decline, and an absolute knowing that we must take the lead regarding their proper care. We've become our parent's parents.
Facing Mortality at Midlife
I'm a Life Coach with a Master's degree in a holistic form of counseling psychology, and I've been keenly interested in and actively exploring the meaning of life from a spiritual and humanistic perspective since I was a young teenager. I've made it my life's mission to work my process in service to my personal growth and enlightenment, and to walk the talk of my learnings in a way that inspires others to do the same. And I must admit, to be currently navigating the challenging waves of my own midlife while at the same time becoming my parent's parent -- is one of the most sobering, difficult, sad, and yet most beautiful and empowering experiences of my life. I'm sure there are those of you who can relate to this. It's wild, isn't it?! And there is no way to fully grasp what this is like until we experience it ourselves.
Listen To Mother Teresa -- Do Good Anyway
The primary message I want to leave you with, is that I'm caring for my parents in this way and at this crucial time in their lives, because I instinctively know they need me and it's the right thing to do.
Regardless of the strained relationship with my father that all three of us girls have experienced for most of our lives, or any unresolved conscious or unconscious issues -- I KNOW from the higher viewpoint and from within my heart -- that caring for both Mom and Dad, and assisting them in making the safest and most loving transition from their physical state back to the non-physical Spiritual realm from whence they came -- is my heartfelt mission, and I feel very clear and uplifted in doing so. This is unconditional love.
I've been contemplating the concept of the Bodhisattva, the individual who seeks awakening not solely for himself or herself, but chiefly for the sake of freeing all other beings and aiding them into the bliss of Nirvana; and the opposite concept of over-responsibility, which is almost an invasive way of caring for others. My sisters and I are finding balance somewhere in the middle -- in figuratively taking on the role of parents to our ailing parents, I believe we are doing what serves the highest spiritual evolution of all. I sense that our unconditional love will travel with Mom and Dad as they cross the threshold from life to death, holding them, and perhaps even liberating their wounds and the wounds of past and future generations. Love releasing karma.
I close by sharing this powerfully inspiring quote, which is taken from Dr. Kent Keith's Paradoxical Commandments, and which Mother Teresa had on the wall of her children's home in Calcutta. These words succinctly and exactly describe how I feel about caring for my parents.
"If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway."
During the holidays and into the new year and the years ahead, may you do your very best to love and honor your own life and the lives of your loved ones -- through birth and death. Do good anyway.
Your Life Coach,