This is a contributed post.
Even the most emotionally-contained among us struggle to see a relative aging. It's particularly cutting when it's our parents. It's something we all know is coming, but it nevertheless cuts like a knife when it does.
The initial signs of aging can be laughed off. Our parents get a little more forgetful; they can't walk for as far as they used to and new health problems may begin to emerge. It may even be a family joke, something you all smile about as it has yet to infringe upon your lives. They're still the person who raised you, instilled your values and made you the person you are today.
Over time, it can become more difficult to ignore. By the time the ninth decade of life begins, independence may be becoming more and more of an issue. That's not to say there aren't plenty of people in their 80s living wonderful, independent, thriving lives - but there are also plenty who are not. It's this group we're focusing on, and this group you may be struggling with your parents falling into.
There are some ways you, as the child, can react to a parent growing old.
The primary emotion is a simple one; the guttural panic of the orphan, or someone who is contemplating being so. It doesn't matter if you're 20 or 60 when it happens; the sudden realization that you won't be able to go home to Mom and Dad brings crushing fear with it. No longer can they fix all their problems for you - in fact, it's up to you to help to fix theirs.
Sometimes you have to talk about the less pleasant side of the human condition to help it heal, and only by acknowledging resentment can you control and tackle it.
The resentment is usually a by-product of the fear. It's a more palatable emotion; it's easier to deal with that being terrified. So instead, the fear is channeled through a preferable emotion.
If this sounds strange, here's a thinking point. Think about any time you have seen a cyclist do something dangerous near a car. More often than not, the driver of the vehicle will be furious with the cyclist. Drivers frequently take to forums online to vent their frustrations with their fellow road users, furious to the point of screaming in videos about how much they hate all of the two-wheeled clan.
Where does it all come from? Are we all a seething mass of fury, with a mere minor altercation with a cyclist enough to trigger it?
Absolutely not. We're afraid. It's fear that's behind the wheel of the person behind the wheel. They were scared of hurting someone, of causing harm. That's not something they can control, though. It's not a pleasant emotion. So we subconsciously funnel it through the glaze of anger, which we find easier to deal with.
That's what happens with resentment of your parents as they age. We're afraid. And that's okay, so long as you try and control it and understand why it's happening.
As your parents age, you can begin to grieve. It's not for them; not yet, they're still here, and hopefully still themselves. But you begin to grieve the process of grief, anticipating their loss. This is not an uncommon experience and applies to various points in life.
Unable To Cope
Finally, the most primordial of fears: being unable to cope. There are numerous things that can trigger this. Perhaps your Mom falls and bruises - older people tend to bruise much more easily, even if the initial bang was innocuous. You see it and feel your chest tightening, wanting to stop it from happening - but you can't. It's a natural process of aging, of being a living organism, and you are fighting an enemy you can't see.
That's why you feel you can't cope; because you can't do anything about it. This is going to happen. It may be somewhat shocking to read, but it's something you have to acknowledge if you're going to handle this.
So... How Do You Handle It?
With a little more understanding of your emotions, you can begin to plan.
Planning is something that gives most of us peace. Studies have shown that humans find it comforting when we are given a problem to solve or something to organize. It subconsciously reinforces the idea that all things have a pattern, an order, and all we need to do is click them into place.
That's what you're going to do. Now, the overwhelming urge is going to be to push it into the background. You become the proverbial ostrich with their head buried in the sand, determined not to acknowledge that your parents are aging and will one day pass away. It's almost a return to childhood, when you believe if you someone put their hands in front of their face then they had vanished. You think you can bury this and forget about it.
It's better to face the reality - both for you and for your parents. Channel yourself into something proactive, something you can do to help. That means asking yourself some questions and coming up with solutions.
Question One: Where Are They Going To Live?
As parents get older, it may not be safe for them to continue to live in their own house. This may be a bone of contention, but eventually, the choice will likely be made for them.
You have three options. The first is residential care, which can be expensive but can also provide the best support they may need. This is particularly the case if their medical needs outstrip the knowledge and support that you can offer.
The second is to bring them into your own home. This is a big adjustment, but it's also the easiest on your conscience. It may work well for both parties, of course - just ensure you're making the choice for the right reasons.
The third option is unusual, but it may work for your family. You can look into home helps and nurses, who can keep your parents in their own home for as long as possible - while still ensuring they are cared for.
Question Two: How Are They Going To Get Around?
Entering the geriatric period of life doesn't mean that your parents will be housebound. While you might be willing to play chauffeur to their medical appointments the way they once did to your track meets, you won't always be available.
There are specialist services which can help transport people to non-urgent medical appointments. Information can be found if you visit for more at MTM-Inc.net/healthcare/nemt/ and explore the options available to you.
Of course, medical appointments are not the only time that your parents might want to get out and about. They may still have social lives they wish to pursue - and they should be encouraged to do so. Find a reputable cab firm that you can trust to treat them with the dignity and respect that they deserve.
Question Three: Have You Had 'The Discussion'?
'The Discussion' is not a pleasant one, but it is a necessity. This is the conversation that will include reference to funeral preferences, if they wish to be buried or cremated and plans for their affairs. It's a conversation they may instigate; as people age, these things play on their mind. If they want to talk about it, then let them, even if you find it distressing. It's important to them, so you have to play your part and listen. You can pick up tips on strengthening your listening skills at https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-be-a-better-listener/ .
If you have to bring the topic to the table, try and keep it brief and change the subject soon after. But at the end of the day, these are things you need to know. It's not going to be easier on you in the future, if you find yourself trying to plan a funeral and having no idea what they would have wanted.
Through all of this, try and take care of yourself. It's important not to suppress your emotions, but also important not to let them rule you. It's a difficult balancing act. Remember, even if a parent appears frail, it doesn't mean that their loss is imminent.
The tasks for coping are relatively mundane, but that can make all the difference. Keep on top of their health concerns, help them in any way you can and try and keep their life as high quality as possible.
It's something that we all have to go through, so don't be afraid to reach out to family, friends and support groups if you feel you can't cope. There's still a lot of golden moments to enjoy even in your parents' golden years, so keep that at the top of your mind, and you'll find your strength right when you need it most.
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