“Ok, my dear. Thank you.”

terry and dadMy dad has never before called me “dear”.

That word brought tears to my eyes. Such a little thing, and yet a such big emotional impact.

We are spending a few weeks living with my dad – helping him with daily care, giving my sister a few moments of respite from her herculean job of care giving.

I was initially nervous about staying here with him. I was not sure about his abilities to function and interact. I worried that he might not want my help or that I would not know what to do. I haven’t lived close to my elderly grandparents or parents, so am not very comfortable with their lifestyle and needs.

My dad suffers from Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and alcoholism. My dad who was always the extreme self-made-man, strong character and body, intelligent, and absent of affection has become a very dependent, weak, forgetful… sweet and appreciative old man.

He certainly has his moments of confusion, frustration, and stubbornness, but in general, he is not the rough, tough, intimidating father he was before.

Caring for my dad is not easy. It requires patience, flexibility, research, and a lot of new perspective. It means different standards, norms, and routines that would have been unheard of in earlier years. Lucid conversations mixed with confused anxiety. Time, worry, initiative, firmness, creativity, and continual second-guessing and questioning decisions and choices.

Dad’s care is the epitome of living with tension – giving respect and still enforcing new restrictions, allowing for independence and restricting freedoms, offering choices while simplifying options, providing quality of life and ensuring safety, protecting privacy and dignity while also hovering with care.

I do not have any official training for the role of elder care-giver, but care giving is training me. I am learning to slow down… lowering my accomplishment expectations for each day, choosing my words carefully and enunciating as I speak, walking protectively at his side, moving with tenderness and intentionality. None of that is easy for me.

The most important lessons are a repeat of earlier experiences – living fully with the realities of each life-stage and finding contentment there. Just as I learned to overcome fears, serve others, and treasure special moments with infants, toddlers, teenagers, and adult children, I can do the same with my dad.

Every person is important. Every life is valuable. I consider it a privilege and a joy to care for him. I am willing to help my dad without expectation of getting anything in return, but every now and then, I receive a special gift – a “thank you” or a “dear” – from a special person who has nothing more to offer. It is enough.

What has been your experience is caring for elderly loved ones? Do you have any tips for me?

independence vs wisdom

tug of war
My dad was in a roll-over accident the other day. Miraculously, he was not hurt except for a scratch on his arm, but he totaled his truck. He is getting older and his Parkinson’s is getting worse, and it is time for another one of those difficult tug-of-war conversations between the desire for independence and making wise choices

This situation has caused me to contemplate the great number of difficult conversations we have on that subject throughout life.

Anyone who has spent time around toddlers knows that the “I want to do it myself” declarations begin earlyIndependence means tying shoes and picking out a favorite shirt to wear. It is a difficult stage for young parents who balance teaching new skills and keeping little ones safe. 

Adolescents push this contrast to a whole new level. With a sense of invincibility, the almost-adults keep parents on their knees as they begin to get around without parent-provided transportation and challenge to make independent decisions about friends and values.

Young adults move out, but are sometimes still tied financially to the nest. Some stay tied emotionally too, but others sever the family cords dramatically as they choose career, spouse, and lifestyle independent of family control.

As we age, we change sides, and the child’s desire for independence from parents converts to the parents’ resistance to dependence on the children. Just as the young ones want to act independently, so do the older adults. Independence struggles for mobility, living arrangement and health care choices.

We all take pride in our independence and do not want to burden others. We each believe we can make (our own) wise decisions and want respect from others as we attempt to stand on our own. These on-going struggles seem inevitable at every life stage and a part of a good, healthy life journey and growth.

If that is true, maybe I should not fight so hard, no matter what stage I am in. I never really have complete control over my life… even less others’. In my heart I know that help from others is a very positive thing; good counsel facilitates wise decisions. It takes humility to accept help, and less pride is good for me too. Perhaps instead of facing this as a tug-of-war, I can view this as a both/and relationship rather than an either/or debate.

How do I find an alliance between appropriate independence and respect at each stage of life AND appreciate the wisdom of others in my life?  How can I help others to do the same?

How do you handle the desire for independence and wise choices?

so grateful for…

sunrise Nicholas Tarling freedigitalphotos.netI woke up too early this morning. I was (more than) a bit grumpy since I really didn’t want to be alert at that hour, but almost immediately some special people came to my mind, and I decided to take advantage of the peaceful quiet to pray for them.

The minutes began to add up as more and more people filled my groggy thoughts, and my grumpiness began to convert into gratitude. I have many wonderful people in my life. They are kind and brave and fun and generous. I began to make a list; I am proud of so many of them…

My mom – Although I know she was afraid of the cancer diagnosis and almost ready to die because of the pain, she chose bravely to undergo the surgery and the chemo treatments. She is making the most of her good days with friends and family, often doing favors for others. It isn’t always easy, but she is strong and an encouragement to me.

My husband – He has traveled to take care of his dad this week; I know it is hard for him there. It is discouraging to experience his dad depressed and weak and sad, a shadow of the man he used to be… Despite the challenges, my husband is sacrificially serving his dad  – cleaning, cooking and being a companion. I miss him when he’s gone, but I am glad he is there with his dad.

My family – In my family and my husband’s family, there are others who do the major share of the care for our elderly parents. While we may fill in from time to time, they are present or on call almost every day. I am impressed by their willing hearts and their attention to innumerable details. I know it is frustrating and exhausting at times. They are my heroes.

My children – I am really proud of my children. They are each one very unique and gifted in so many ways. They are also imperfect and have all kinds of normal challenges and problems, but I love the adults they are becoming. I especially like that they love me too.

My friends – Both those from the past and my new friends from this year have added much joy to my life. I am inspired by their faith and their desire to grow and their determination to keep moving forward. Some of them have had to overcome some very difficult trials and hurts, but I see them committed to healing and wholeness and finding the strength to help others. I have received abundantly from their generous lives, and I am grateful for each one of them.

I never did get back to sleep… my list continued on and on, and I eventually realized it was a very blessed life I was waking up to meet. Not a bad way to start the day.

Who is on your grateful list? Who makes you proud?