I am not sure there is anything that can quite prepare one for the emotional journey and responsibility that comes with switching roles with your parents due to illness or aging. Becoming a caregiver for a loved one is not one of those things on the lists of dreams and aspirations we have, or at least it wasn’t on mine, but the reality of it all is that we aren’t getting any younger, which means our parents aren’t either, and a little preparedness for when the time comes when they need a hand doesn’t hurt.
You are never ready for the day you have to take your mom’s car keys away or call a caregiving agency for the first time, however, you can prepare in other ways and that proactive approach will allow you some space to manage the emotional caregiving journey you are about to embark on.
I can say with raw honesty that this journey weighed heavy on my heart. Caring for anyone requires a lot of time, energy and love. However, when it is your parent, it is a different kind of love. A love as strong as the love you have for your own kid, but also fiercely protective in a way that breaks your heart.
Ultimately, when your loved one is no longer able to manage their home or themselves and their quality of life starts to fade, you have no choice but to step in and take the wheel.
I wasn’t given a handbook on how to manage my mom’s life, but I sure could have used one. I did, however, confide in friends and family, therapists and people who’re opinions I respect and created my own sort of handbook.
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These are my tips for any earth angel who has been gifted with the responsibility and honor of taking care of an ailing parent.
What is the current state of the estate?
Talk to your parents long before they are old and sick about the state of their home, financials, and wishes for their property and belongings. Important topics; POA (Power of Attorney, trust, will) Are these items determined? Are the will and trust (if they have them) current? What about a DNR? (Do Not Resuscitate) Look for an elder law attorney to help you with these items.
Next stop, the bank.
Here is the deal. Money makes the world go round and, if your name isn’t on your parent’s account when they fall ill, your world is going to go around at a snail’s pace. You will be beyond frustrated. It is a simple process that can be done with a lovely little trip to the bank with your sweet parent. You will be thrilled that you took this measure early.
Safety Deposit Boxes are your friend.
Family heirlooms, jewelry, and precious things should be put somewhere safe, like a safety deposit box. Don’t wait to take your loved one’s valuables to be stored for safe-keeping. There are too many stories of folks getting taken advantage of and ripped off. When it came to this moment for us, it felt a bit like we were stealing from our mom, but it was the right thing to do because you can never be too careful.
Stop the bleeding.
It is not uncommon for ailing folks to fall behind with bills and life when their health starts to fail. Gather all the bills and start streamlining costs and removing any needless and wasteful spending. It is a very real possibility that care might be required down the road for your loved one and every dollar makes a difference–might as well get a handle on the financial situation.
Don’t forget about you.
It is so cliché, I know, but it is so true. If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of anyone else? This goes for life in general, but especially when you are caring for a sick person. If there is ever a time to make you a priority, that time would be now. Remember to exercise, seek counseling, get proper sleep and any other self-care practices you might use. Lean on your tribe and don’t forget to feel.
Online subscriptions and automation rule a caregiver’s world.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to do my own grocery shopping, let alone someone else. Whatever you can automate and have delivered via online ordering, take advantage. Things like adult diapers and laundry supplies are big-ticket items and ordered often. Figure out your usage and automate that shit! And don’t be silly! Take advantage of Amazon and Peapod. The ability to order at my desk saved me time after work when I needed to be home with my family. Game changer.
Come with a shit load of patience and compassion.
Try and remember that this transition is equally hard on your loved one. Accepting the notion that they can no longer take care of themselves is a tough pill to swallow and it can be scary and sad for them too. If you approach the situation with love and an exorbitant amount of patience, your ailing parent or loved one will feel it and perhaps ease some of what is most difficult about this transition which is, essentially, losing control.
Hug your parents.