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Caring for a Loved One When the Wheels Fall Off

Caring for a Loved One When the Wheels Fall Off

Greetings one and all…

I hope you are doing well as February draws to a close. Can you believe it? On my walk in the neighborhood yesterday, I sensed some initial signs of Spring—sights, sounds, and smells. An uplifting and hopeful experience indeed. Certainly a welcome experience since I’ve been worried about a dear friend of late. A few weeks ago my friend learned the distressing news that her parents are not aging well. Apparently, her parents have been hiding the reality of their situation from family and friends for several years. It is only because of a recent medical emergency that the family was apprised of the tragic reality by emergency personnel and social services. Her parents are not—and have not been—capable of caring for themselves. As my friend said, “The wheels have fallen off, and we are scrambling to figure out how to get back on track!”

As you might imagine, my friend is doing a good job of berating herself. She is wondering how in the world she missed the signs that things were NOT going well for her parents. Listening, I noted the various factors that contributed to the recent crisis. First, my friend and her siblings don’t live in the same state as their aging parents. So, they don’t have eyes on the situation with the exception of an occasional family gathering during the holidays. Secondly, her parents opted not to share any concerns they had regarding their physical and cognitive decline. Instead, when asked how they were doing, the answer was always, “We’re fine!” Based on recent conversations with her parents’ neighbors and friends, they were not aware of the dire situation either. Sadly, her parents chose not to ask for help from anyone. Regardless, my friend is overwhelmed with regret and guilt.

It is so hard to witness this tragic situation. Everyone—my friend, her siblings, and her parents—are struggling to determine what must be done, what should be done, and what can be done. In the midst of the crisis, my friend is emotionally raw and incredibly stressed. Not the best position from which to make life-changing decisions.

I can certainly relate to my friend’s dreadful predicament. I had a similar experience with my dad over twenty years ago. I didn’t recognize my dad’s inability to care for himself until “the wheels fell off.” Just like my friend’s parents, my dad chose not to share his concerns with me. As he said, “I don’t want to be burden. You have your own life. And, I’m doing just fine.” Perhaps my dad truly believed he was fine. Sadly, the fallacy of that belief was ultimately revealed.

What is to be learned from these horrendous situations? First, we must be proactive in caring for ourselves and our loved ones. Therefore, prepare to care—talk about the what ifs. Second, realize your loved ones may withhold vital information about their health and well being. This may be due to denial, a desire to protect you, and/or to maintain control. Third, there is no substitute for witnessing the situation—boots on the ground. Fourth, as I age, I am reminded that I can’t age well alone. If I am to age well and to be well, I must learn how to graciously ask for and to receive help. By so doing, perhaps I can save my friends the heartbreak and devastation that far too many families experience.

So my friends, be proactive. Be curious. Pay attention. Realize that “I’m FINE” is a red flag warning! Don’t wait for the wheels to fall off. Be proactive and avoid the crisis. A blessing for you and yours.

I look forward to the ongoing conversation. If you have specific questions or concerns related to your caregiving experience, I would love to hear from you. Until the next posting, I wish you and yours countless blessings…jane

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