Five Ways to Keep it Together...
1. Have fun. One of the things we most need in life is the one thing we most often forget once we begin caring for an elderly parent. We forget to have some Fun! Give yourself permission to have lots of fun! Rent some old movies or play some old music. Wear a goofy hat or a fake mustache. Whatever it takes. It is true that laughter can be the best medicine! Whenever, wherever, and however you can, truly enjoy this time. Remember that 10 quality minutes with someone can make their entire day!
2. Take care of yourself. It's so easy to forget to care for yourself as the necessary care of your aging parent or loved one increases. You will burn out if you don’t take care of yourself, and then whom will your parent turn to? Take walks, stretch, eat out, hire a respite caregiver, and never feel guilty spending quality time away from them. This is the necessary fuel you need to continue taking care of them. Consider taking time away to rejuvenate yourself a critical part of their care.
3. Accept that things have changed. When a parent starts depending upon their child, it can feel as though the world has turned upside down. Although you may be considered the child, the roles can and do change. You are now the decision maker and/or caregiver for your parent. Old roles may not apply; old methodologies may not apply; old emotions may not apply – but your love and dedication remains the same. Be prepared to write a new script.
4. Take it slowly. Taking care of an elderly parent is generally a marathon, not a sprint. Don't rush it and don’t try to understand everything right away. Understand that both you and your parent are in uncharted territory. Let the process reveal itself to you, and to the degree that you can, let whatever happens unfold organically. Our parents generally want to feel in control, even if they’re not or can’t be. If you jump in headfirst and attempt with force to take over, you might jeopardize a natural evolution.
5. Expect nothing emotionally. At the end phase of their life, your parent might open up to you emotionally and spiritually; they might express for you the love that, for whatever reason, they haven't before. But they also might not do that. Caring for your aging parent allows you bond with them in a new and deeper way, but going into caring for them expecting or even hoping for that to happen is dangerous territory and you may be the one getting hurt in the end. Better to have no expectations and be surprised, than to have your hopes up. This time should be all about them! Be there unconditionally and think about what you might need in terms of support when it’s your turn.