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Caring For Your Parent - Happiness Or Horror

By Maggie Walters

Coming from a life long career in education, I believe in teaching by example. The first thing is to recognize the situation and the problem. The possible solutions come later. The following is a short story which may hit home for you or for someone you know. It presents a scenario to be considered. Even if this situation is in your face, you need time to digest it before you can consider an action. Ideas will follow.  

As you have been going about the business of your life, have you ever imagined yourself in the job of caregiver – unpaid at that? Did anyone ever mention that you might well end up as principal caregiver for one of your parents? What exactly are we talking about here? Assuming for a minute that it is not your paid profession, this situation has probably always been the farthest thing from your thoughts. If it is your chosen profession, those people are not related to you anyway, so you can go home and forget about them until your next shift. It is not always so easy to put those in your care out of your mind but that is for another article.  

Here you are in middle age with a growing family, everyone busy, busy. Suddenly, and I mean with no warning, Mom has a little fall. She is in her eighties now and still very active, living in the house where you grew up. She does kind of rattle around by herself but there are no real problems and you live close by. This is a little bit of a set back. Did she break a hip? Oh well, everyone has hip replacements these days. Not a big deal. It turns out to be a bit more complicated than just the hip. Mom had a slight stroke which precipitated the fall. She is in the hospital waiting for the surgery and your sister, Anne, has flown in from Des Moines. Your brother only lives an hour away. He has come and gone, confident that Mom will be fine.  

You and Anne are hovering in Mom's room. She is sleeping. There have been some undercurrents among the nurses about where Mom will go when she leaves the hospital. Of course she will have to have some rehab to learn to walk again with the new hip. A drab young woman dressed in olive slides through the door and introduces herself as Melissa, your case worker. Case worker? In low tones, presumably so as not to waken Mom, she urges you to accompany her to her office, only a minute away down on the next floor. Whatever for? Melissa wants to discuss Mom's 'situation.' What situation? She had a slight stroke, she fell and broke her hip, she's having a hip replacement. That's the situation!  

You all troop down to the floor below, somewhat further than just a minute. Melissa offers you and Anne each a chair, herself perching on an uncomfortable looking stick seat. She draws closer trying to be intimate because, after all, this will be a difficult discussion. You can feel it coming. The nurses' undercurrents are coming to fruition. Can't we just get through the surgery first? Well, no, Mom won't be staying in the hospital long and arrangements must be in place. Of course, you had heard that the hospitals kick them out as soon as possible. Insurance doesn't want to pay. There are several good nursing homes in the area and Melissa hands our pamphlets. She suggests you take a drive around this afternoon to inspect a few of them and hopefully make a decision – soon. In an assuring voice she informs you that she will continue to follow Mom. She will always be in good hands and long term arrangements can be discussed at a later date. Long term? Long term, Mom will be going back home, won't she? You seem to have acquired Melissa whether you want her or not. Who pays Melissa? Hopefully not you. The hospital; the government? It turns out that Melissa was covered by Mom's insurance. That is not always the case and it is wise to find out, or so you are told.

Garden Grove Nursing and Rehabilitation Home seems nice. It is clean and doesn't smell like diapers as did the first one – and the second come to think of it. A cheerful young woman clutching a clipboard to her chest prances around the corner in response to a call from the receptionist. She offers glossy brochures with photographs of smiling white haired people in wheelchairs. The tour is brief. There is a dining room with square tables and a grand piano. Further down the hall is the rehab center containing treatment tables, practice steps with rails and a large green rubber ball. Several of the residents are lined up in chairs raising and lowering their arms as instructed by a physical therapist. The resident area surrounds a hospital-like nurses' station. Six or seven vacant-looking people are lined up in their wheelchairs in front of the station. One of them seems to think you are a relative and calls out to you. Your guide rushes you on down the hall explaining that the woman suffers from mild dementia. You peek into a room, a double with a curtain divider, fitted with hospital style beds, simple night tables and a couple of chairs. All very basic. You turn to your sister to ask what she thinks when a loud speaker blares out someone's name. Well, it will only be for a short time until Mom can walk again.  

Back at the hospital Mom is awake but not very chatty. Normally she is bubbly and you can't get a word in edgeways. She seems to have aged considerably overnight. She gives you a weak smile and grasps at your hand. Her usually intent eyes are a little vacant until they close again and she is back to sleep. You exchange anxious glances with Anne. The pain medication must be making her sleepy. You are suddenly aware of your cell phone ringing in you purse. As you struggle to find it before it goes to voicemail, in slides Melissa. The call was from your brother. You will have to call him back. Melissa asks your thoughts on the nursing homes. The last one was the best. Melissa agrees and says she will make all the arrangements. You won't have to worry about a thing. The surgery is scheduled for tomorrow and since Mom seems safe enough you decide to go home and return early in the morning.

The surgery was successful and, as you and Anne sit on the vinyl chairs in the waiting room, Dr. P., the orthopedic surgeon, appears as if by magic, to go over the prognosis. During the previous evening you and Anne had an extended conversation with your brother about the nursing facility. There were many unanswered questions such as how long will Mom be there, what will be the costs involved and who will pay. You will try to get to the bottom of these things but just now you are relieved that everything went well. Dr. P. explains that recovery time varies and in Mom's case there are some neurological factors to be taken into account. What neurological factors? Anne reminds you that Mom had a slight stroke. Just as Dr. P. finishes explaining that the neurologist will be stopping by, here comes Melissa.  

Again you troop down to her office and take up your positions on the appointed chairs. Like a broken record Melissa goes over the nursing home procedure yet again and, just as she comes to the part where she explains other types of facilities that would take Mom after she is better, the door opens a crack preceded by a light tap. A thin dark haired young man of possible Chinese decent tentatively steps just inside the door. Ah, it is Dr. O., the neurologist. Melissa is clearly relieved as the conversation was beginning to get awkward. Dr. O. wastes no time launching into the possible repercussions of Mom's stroke. The problems are that she will not be able to physically function as before and, more important, her reasoning and judgment may be impaired. In short, she will not be safe to live alone. Not go back to her house? The home she has lived in for so many years. She will be devastated. Dr. O. continued saying that it is too early to assess the extent of the damage. She may not notice that she is not in her home. Of course she will notice, won't she? This news has come as a shock to both you and Anne. Melissa pipes up: there are many assisted living facilities where Mom would be safe and well cared for. Or there is always the possibility that she could move in with one of her children. The shock has now doubled; no, quadrupled. None of you had ever thought that you could have Mom living in your home – permanently! You are speechless. Anne thinks this could be a solution. Of course it couldn't be her; she lives too far away. Your brother would flatly say 'no.' No, you are the best, the only choice. Maybe she could move around from one to another. That's a lame idea. It would never work. With heads hanging you and Anne head back to Mom's room to see how she is doing.  

This scenario is one you might recognize. It is only the start of the issues that will arise when you are unexpectedly dealing with care for a parent. No one is prepared. But, the more comparisons you can make; the more stories you read; the more research you do, the better off you will be. Of course, it may never happen to you. But if not to you, it will happen to someone close to you. Your due diligence will come in handy for someone. More to come on this topic.

Author’s Bio

Maggie Walters is the author of "Finding the Bloom of the Cactus Generation: Improving the Quality of Life for Seniors." She offers consultation and workshops for those caring for the elderly, especially if dementia is involved. Visit to order the book, e-book and resources guide or to contact Maggie.


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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Itsmesteph11 wrote Sep 2, 2008
    • A couple of years after my dad dies my mom built a MIL apt above our house and has lived there ever since. She had a heart attack and cervical cancer in 2000.  This was taken care of but not long after she was diagnosed with lung cancer. This was late 2001. After the ensuing major surgery she became my responsibility. Not sure how but i assume it was my close proximity though my brother is 2 miles away. Of course he couldn’t do it and she did have a home very close to me.  I have been her caretaker now for 7 years to one extent or another. Lately , a big extent. NO, I’m not happy about it. I’m not the lovey nursey type.  This from a less than lovey upbringing.  So I snap when she doesn’t hear(she swears i don’t talk loud enough even after the nice lady told her, it was her hearing) I imediately stress at the thought of the 3 times a day I have to go up and feed her. I have no patience for this job. Why can’t she be somewhere where someone else can be with her? She really needs constant care as she won’t get out of bed, can’t go up and down stairs or make sure she stays hydrated herself.
      I guess this makes me a bad person but these feelings seem natural to me. It’s the feelings I grew up with, why would they be different now? It’s my duty? I don’t know and maybe I am alone. It seems no one else feels this way. Maybe it has just been too long. 7 years of caring, worrying and toting to appointments and hospitals for her and 7 years of my kids activities, school, trials and tribulations as well. It’s been alot to deal with on top of my depression which I constantly push to the side.....
      I get your story... I have felt the same emothins and then some. Can’t wait to hear more.



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    • +1 votes vote up vote up

      Countrychic592 wrote Jan 2, 2010
    • You are certainly not alone! I am watching my mother go thru the same thing right now. There are six siblings, yet my mother and one of her sisters are the only ones who will step up and care for her, around the clock, so that she doesn’t have to go to a Nursing Home. It’s an agonizing decision, but most often, you have to take care of yourself in order to care for someone else. You need a break too, physically and mentally!!   Good Luck and God Bless



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    • +1 votes vote up vote up

      Wendyo3 wrote Jan 10, 2010
    • I am surprised that there are only three comments on this story...I’m sure there are many more caregivers in this group.  I am caring for my 95 year old grandma after my mom passed away two years ago.  She is still living on her own in an apartment a few blocks away, but it is still a responsibility for me daily.  She is someone I love dearly, but has always been a “glass half empty” person and that is hard be around, especially when I am dealing with my own grief,immediate family, work, father’s health issues, brother with Down Syndrome’s health issues.  Yes, I beat myself up mentally often for not seeing this as a “blessing” in my life all of the time.  Don’t you wish you were young again sometimes and life was the way it used to be? Sometimes these “Fabulous 40’s” are tough.  Finding others in the same boat helps...we are not alone!  happy



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Deb Darby wrote Jan 13, 2010
    • My sister and I knew this day would come. Mom was just diagnosed with liver cancer, so we will have dealing with seeing her go and then what to do with Dad. From what we’ve heard and been told, he will probably go downhill fast. I’ll probably be back here alot to find the great support that Fab40 women are. I hope I can be the same for someone. frown



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Wtrvixen wrote Mar 27, 2010
    • I have an 83 year old mother and we just recently moved into a 4 bedroom home, with my husband and 4 kids.  We chose to do so because my Mom wanted to move in with me and I wanted to be there to watch over, help her and take care of her.  Also, my eldest daughter and I had a fear that we would we come visit her, in her little apartment to find her deceased for a couple days.  What a scary nightmare imagine!  So, my Mom was a nurse and very independent and active in her 50’s and 60“s when she first retired.  She retired at 65 and stopped driving, so I drove her where she needed to go.  Her mental health has been slowly depreciated over time, as well as her memory.  She has a pacemaker and a gets B12 shots monthly.  Caring for her often feels like dealing with another child.  She no longer has the strength in her hands to wash dishes, or do anything that requires any major amount of strength.  She does no mental or physical exercises in order to keep herself in shape.  I have offered to take her on many outings, church, senior center etc. and she agrees to go and then changes her mind at the last minute.  We did not have a good relationship when I was a teenager, in college I started a family and we got along alot better, but it was never an easy relationship.  She has always helped me and my family financially over the years (her way of saying she loves us, because she has never been physically affectionate or loving.  My father was the loving one and he died at the age of 70 when I was 17).  In the 5 months we have lived in our home together, my mom has had her “senior” moments and I have instructed everyone to just try to ignore the bad behavior, be respectful and polite, and just say “Okay Grandma..“.  We got into an argument the other day, when she decided to come out of her room and announce how unhappy she was and how she was moving.  I wanted to know why she was unhappy and she wouldn’t say.  I had a joint account with her to help her with her finances and I was writing her checks for her and she was also paying my car payment for me till I become employed.  She said she felt trapped and that she wanted to be free.  I said where are you going to go? I am your primary caregiver, I take care of you, what am I not doing right? What do you need? What do I need to do for you? She never answers and it is so frustrating.
      I don’t know how to deal with this behavior and how she often takes information about my family and misconstrues it and says awful things.  During our argument or her being upset and causing me to cry, she said I was a whore (because I sleep with my husband), she said some really horrible and painful things.  She believes sex is only for procreation and her and my father had separate rooms and didn’t have sex after I was born.  She is filipino and grew up when Japan bombed and took over the filipines.  My husband thinks that she was raped during that time because of her tears and upset issues when discussing a certain portion of a living history she was giving us.  From what I can remember of my mom and Dad’s relationship, she was always upset about something and yelling alot.  My Dad was more of the calm and rational, easy-going person (he was caucasian).  I find it very difficult dealing with her childish behavior.  They say that elderly parents often regress back into childhood.  I definitely see it in my mother.

      I am sorry this frustration is very common.  But, I am glad I am not alone!
      CJ



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Wtrvixen wrote Mar 27, 2010
    • Today - my 83 yr old mother decided to move out.  She cried to her friend about how unhappy she was over the phone and her friend withand children moved my mom out to another friends house.  They said it was only temporary, so my mom could take a break.  She doesn’t like it if anyone raises their voice or argues.. and try to have peace and quiet with a family of 7!  So, she moved in with her friend and we shall see how long her friends can handle her elderly “senior” moment behaviors. Overall, I hope she is happy.. that is all I really want for her.  I thought she would be happy with our family.  I cook home made meals every night, she wants to help and I usually have her cut the onions.  She wants to do things, so she usually folds the laundry.  But, only if she wants to.  Nothing is ever forced on her, everything is as if she is on vacation.. she does what she wants.  But, I guess that wasn’t good enough.

      I give up!
      CJ



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Kattalina wrote Oct 4, 2010
    • this is a great discussion.



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