balancing act when mom is so needy!

How do you find time to take care of yourself after a parent’s death when the surviving spouse is so needy? My Dad has recently passed away and my Mom, who was always totally depended on him during 60+ years of marriage, is now looking to me, an only child, to fill the void. With my own husband and children’s needs and full time work, I haven’t had a second to address my own grief. Mom has tough health issues, my husband has work challenges and I need to be there for both. How does one find any kind of balance? I feel jumpy and uncomfortable in my own skin right now. I know there must be plenty of others who have gone through the same experiences and would appreciate it if you could share how you coped. written by Janet in Kansas


fragility of life – how do we balance it all?

Wikipedia defines Equanimity (Latin: æquanimitas having an even mind; aequus even animus mind/soul) is a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind.

My family has always been small. Over the past few years, my father and my grandmother both passed away. I am an only child. My Mother is in an assisted living residence (thankfully, a wonderful one) several thousand miles from where I live. I feel her slipping away mentally…very much as my Grandmother did. Physically, her health is not good either; but it is the vacancy in her voice that I find the hardest to cope with. Recently, my Mom’s oldest friend was diagnosed with serious health issues and is undergoing chemo. Mom is almost childlike in her focus of how her friend’s illness will affect her(my Mom). She says she isn’t ready to deal with it. I alternate between being frustrated by her total self absorption and just feeling very tender for how fleeting our life on this earth is. Figuring out how to be a support for our aging parents without sacrificing our own health and sanity is a topic of ongoing interest to me. How do other readers find equanimity? submitted by Yvonne in Georgia


dealing with a death wish

I just want to cry! My parents, who are in their 80’s and live in a retirement home, have just given up on life. They are convinced that the two of them are going to die imminently. Mom is constantly in pain from reoccurring osteoporosis fractures and Dad has a faltering memory, relies heavily on a cane to walk, and arthritis makes it difficult for him to insert his hearing aids. Their fatalistic attitude has made them reclusive. Dad and Mom only leave their apartment to go down to the community dining room for dinner.

As their daughter and only child, it destroys me emotionally to see them like this. In my mind I reason that this is severe depression but in my heart, I am in a panic. When I visit them twice a week, their death is always part of the conversation and nothing I say seems to have any effect on how they feel. Dad and Mom have said that they are not planning to end their own lives, but feel they only have months left as they “are on a downhill decline that will only end one way.” Every new ache or pain is seen as a “sign” of impending doom.

What can I do? They won’t talk to a social worker, avoid family get-togethers and go into a complete panic if apart for even a few minutes. I can’t bear to watch them just sit there and wait to die. These were two active, intelligent people who traveled the world in retirement, read and kept up on world affairs. Now they sit in their living room all day doing little except for watching Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. I desperately want to “save” the people I love, but does one just accept their parent’s mindset or fight to keep them alive? What do you think, what can I do? written by Jane in Texas

only child & far away asks “what is help”?

A prior post titled “the river denial” prompted me to think about my own experience in dealing with my elders. Denial is far more than a river for my family. It’s a destination residence clung to with a tenacity that makes a pit bull look like a pocket puppy. My grandmother is in a nursing home with advanced dementia. My Mom is in poor health (aggravated by a life time of poor choices) and starting to show signs of mental deterioration. My Dad died 7 years ago as a result of his own poor choices. I’m an only child and live all the way cross country–probably not an accident (if I am really honest). I’m good at organizing and taking care of things that need to be done. I’m not good at catering to someone’s distorted views of reality. I feel like a terrible daughter. Is it really reasonable for a parent to be unwilling and/or unable to care for themselves AND be mean spirited and uncooperative when someone tries to help? And what is “help”? If someone has had a life time of making bad choices, is it “helpful” to try & make good choices for them when they need someone else to be involved; or is this just meddling? Do you make the choices that are “best” for them? Or the ones that they would most likely have made for themselves? It is just one of those days I am questioning my role as their daughter and only child. Has anyone else had this dilemma?


Submitted by Joan in Alaska

the need to please – being raised a good girl

need to please turning toxic!My intent was never to become a caregiver. I have always been a career girl, encouraged by my parents to be self-sufficient and independent. Never, they’d say, ever EVER would they lean on me in their old age. At the same time, I have always been a pleaser – wanting everyone to be happy and having a difficult time saying “no”. Lately, this combination has become toxic.

Last year my parent’s health began to decline. As they lived in another city, I was always dashing back and forth when I would receive a frantic “emergency” phone call. Yes, I’d be there. Yes, I would drop everything in this crisis. Yes, I’d cook. Yes, I’d call the doctors. Yes, yes, yes… As an only child, I had no other siblings to rely on. It became apparent that my parents were increasingly becoming less able to care for themselves and that they just didn’t want to try. My mother, in particular, suddenly went from being the one in charge to the one who had no interest in anything but her needs! When I hired help to come into their home, the cost quickly shot through the roof, close to $10,000 a month.

Soon it made more sense to move them closer to where I live. I selected a retirement home that had both independent and assisted living, which I thought would please my parents. It is a lovely place with lots of activities, transportation, beautiful surroundings and a seemingly caring staff. However, my parents refuse to use the transportation and participate in any activities except the nightly dinners provided in the dining room. I soon found myself doing their shopping, driving them to endless doctor’s appointments and such. Have I enabled them – yes? In my need to please, my life has turned into a nightmare, affecting myself, my work and my family life. Do I know how to extricate myself – no? No matter how hard I try to push them to take charge of any part of their own lives, they refuse to do so.

So what do I do? Refuse to take them anywhere? It is easy to say set boundaries, but much harder to follow through. When I try, they just sit there and don’t make any effort. Is there anyone out there who has or is going through the same experience? While I know I am responsible for creating my own hell, I am truly reaching out to you for help…..



the harder road: elder caregiving alone or with siblings

What happens when you are an only child and become the caregiver for your elderly parents? I remember the stress and trauma my own mother went through dealing with my grandparents through illness, trauma, dying and death. In the Oct. 19th, 2010 issue of the New York Times, Paula Span addresses “Caregiving Without Siblings”. In the article she first profiles Regina Milgram-Bossong, who acknowledges that “she has it easy” right now. Her parents who are in their 80’s and despite medical problems and surgeries, they still live independently. What she dreads is what she can foresee coming in the not too distant future. As an only child, she will be facing some tough decisions and times ahead alone, with no one else to talk to.

At the other end of the spectrum is Margaret Reiss, whose parents are in their 90’s and also  live in their own home. They are starting to fail. She has two siblings and tempers are flaring as life changing decisions for her parents will need to be made soon.

The question addressed is “Which is the harder road: shouldering a sometimes crushing responsibility on your own? Or battling with siblings at a time when working together is crucial?

Span, author of “When the Time Comes: Families with Aging Parents Share Their Struggles and Solutions” weighs both sides. Equally as thought provoking, however, are the more than 60 reader comments which follow the article on-line, giving real insight into the issues that surround this hefty question.

breaking the news – another living arrangement

My husband, Todd,  and I were on the way to the hospital talking about how we would break the news to his father. SInce Todd is an only child there were no other siblings to discuss this with or to collaborate with. His father had been in an assisted living facility and had fallen. 911 was called and off to the hospital he went! Todd decided to be transparent with his dad at our visit. He said, “I want you to know Dad, you are not going back to your apartment unless you can take care of yourself and not fall. That means that you cannot go there while there is a safely issue. The family cannot pick you up and you can’t call 911 all the time. I know you’d like to continue living independently but it is no longer possible. You need 24 hour care. We don’t mind taking care of you as long as you don’t fight us. It is OK that you don’t remember things. It’s only tough on us when you fight us. All we are trying to do is take care of you. We are looking at an Adult Family Home that will be able to look after you.”

His dad looked at us as though trying to make sense of it all. His reply was, “I am such a burden on all of you. I have accomplished everything I set out to do and there is nothing more for me here. I just want to be done.”

tough personal choices

I am the sole caregiver of my 93 year old deaf and blind father.  That sounds like it is a rock pile, but he is about the  liveliest “deaf and blind guy” (his words) one could imagine.  He is frail and unsteady, but engaging and cognitively intact.

Last week my phone rang, and I had that immediate “oh NO” reaction when I saw it was from the nurse at his independent living facility.  He had been dizzy during the night and was on his way to the emergency room via ambulance.

elderly man in ambulanceI have been to the emergency room many times with my father.  Each time he becomes the darling of the ER while I act as his interpreter and advocate.  I become exhausted while he gets energized.  The nurses think he is cute; the practitioners want his attitude towards aging.  Everyone sees an inspiration.  I see a long exhausting day or evening in front of me.

But this time, I didn’t go to the ER.  For the first time in the 5 years he’s been out here, I didn’t take him or meet him there. I felt terrible, a bad daughter.  I know some day the trip to the ER will be the last trip.  But not this time. I had a very full work day, and put that first.

I felt a great sense of relief when the nurse called me several hours later to ask how my father was going to get home. “Taxi?”, I said tentatively.  An hour later my father called me to say he was home.  They couldn’t find anything wrong.  A bullet dodged!