For Better or Worse...In Sickness and in Health

September 4, 2019

Mom and Dad have been together for 52 years--the first 50 years they lived a relatively normal married life with their fair share of ups and downs.

In the last 2 years, Dad became the primary caregiver for my Mom with dementia. When his own health started to decline it became increasingly more difficult for him to provide Mom with the support he so wanted to give her and that she came to expect. Mom lacked understanding and compassion as she failed to recognize my father’s changing condition. In fact, she grew to be bitter and resentful towards him.

My brother and I started to get frequent calls from both parents, each complaining about the other. During visits, we were often cornered by one of our parents and expected to pick a side as they vented how unhappy and miserable they were. The more neutral we tried to stay, the more they escalated our involvement.

 

We had had enough! My brother and I requested a family meeting to discuss support for our parents. I laughed when my Mom called it an “intervention” and yes, both appeared to be relieved that we were finally doing something. It was an honest and very emotional meeting where we talked about community supports such as meals on wheels, respite for Dad, and a cleaning lady for Mom. My brother and I breathed a sigh of relief as we left their home feeling like all was settled and in place.

 

Not so! Less 24 hours later, they somehow banded together into this formidable force. I started to get phone calls from my parents saying they could manage on their own and that my brother and I were meddling in their affairs.

 

In a panic, I called my brother and said: “What do we do now?”. We agreed that although it was difficult to pull away, we needed to respect their wishes and allow them to go it alone. My brother wisely said: “They have been together over 50 years. It is THEIR marriage…for better or worse, in sickness or in health.”

 

Please don’t get me wrong, we did not abandon our parents, but rather waited in the wings with eyes on the situation until we were needed. Approximately 2 weeks after this meeting, Dad was transferred to the hospital and Mom stayed in her apartment. The prevailing circumstances permitted us to step in and help our parents. Now we were needed.

 

In hindsight, the refusal of our parents to accept help was possibly rooted in fear. Perhaps my parents were afraid to lose control over their lives and accepting help meant the beginning of loss of control. No one wants to wait for a crisis to happen; yet this opened the door for my parents to give in and give up and finally accept our help.

      

     What has been your experience in getting your aging parent to accept help?

 

 

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Durham Caregiver Coaching Services.

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