(I wrote this four years ago. After an emotional day with the folks yesterday, I began to write about it. Then I came across this post and realized I already had.)
Most people who check in at the Ballpark once in a while know I help my elderly parents who live in an assisted living facility a mile away. Between my husband, our daughter and me, we check on them daily.
They seem to decline a little more every month. They are 89 and 92 (they are now 93 and 96) and are currently stable. But, any day things could change.
We all get along pretty well, but on occasion, one of my parents becomes discouraged about or frustrated with their own limitations. Dad wears his heart on his sleeve, so it’s easy to decipher his concerns. Mom is pretty emotionally restrained. She’s simply wired differently, and it’s often difficult to determine what’s on her mind.
This week, she became upset because she was out of some eye drops. I bought her a new box, but she claimed it was not the right type. I went into the store twice to make sure I had it right. She began to cry and imply that I was in too big a hurry to help her. This flare-up came out of nowhere.
This is the third time in the past two years Mom has had a bit of a meltdown over, what seems to me, an issue that is easily resolvable. It always catches me off guard, and it’s always upsetting to both of us. I do my best to help my folks, and it makes me sad to think Mom might not feel safe in my care of her. I’m not the perfect caretaker, for sure, but I do believe God equips me to be the best imperfect caretaker I can be.
My parents were both recently diagnosed with levels of dementia, and I know as the brain deteriorates, there are personality changes. I’m seeing this in both of my parents, and it’s very difficult to accept. Just like Dad keeps thinking the perfect drug will make him 25 again, I keep thinking, things can’t get any worse. We’re both delusional.
Mom and Dad have repeatedly said they didn’t think getting older would be like this. I didn’t think helping my parents would be like this. I don’t know what we were all thinking, but my daughter is getting a more realistic view of what getting older entails. She helped Dad with his catheter when he needed one, she can maneuver his weighty wheel chair in and out of the car, and she plays Bingo with Dad and his buddies once a week or so. Every young person should regularly visit the land of the elderly and become comfortable with their own future.
Helping my folks draws me closer to God, because on my own, I run out of resources. Every level of decline – Dad’s stroke, Mom’s shoulder surgery, their many falls, etc. – brings with it another layer of sadness: the realization that they are not going to get better. (They stabilize between episodes, but there’s always something else coming.)
My fleshy heart shies away from adjusting to more disabilities, but God keeps moving me forward, whispering don’t be afraid; for I am your strength, song, and salvation. Intellectually, I know this. I believe this. But, some days…the heart is slow to lift.
My parents are people of faith, and I know they will find peace in physical death. What is hard to live with is that they don’t really have peace now. They have pains and weaknesses and deficits and limitations that make them weary.
We try to laugh often and celebrate the things we can. I know God is sovereign, and the aging process doesn’t lessen His intimacy with us. I know this in my head. But, because I love my parents, my heart still grieves.
I know there are millions of people who help their aging parents and certainly people who manage it better than I do. I’m not the first child to have these thoughts and feelings, and I won’t be the last. But, it often feels like a solitary journey, and it helps to share it here.