Friday, February 17, 2017
the positive side of living with elderly family members
I've written a lot about the challenges of living with my elderly parents, and I will continue to do so - because it's honest, and it's important - no one should go into this blindly, and because I need to communicate and to laugh in order to cope. Its also really important I take some time to say that living with elderly family members can be really wonderful and beneficial to both old and young.
Of course I need a break from the bickering, of course I'd like the house to myself more often, of course the needs of my parents override my own, and life is very much focused on their medical needs and issues as a priority while scheduling for myself takes a back seat - but I can work on that.
In spite of needing to fight stress with laughter and go running to someone to say "guess what just happened?" a good 10-20 times a day, I also get quite a lot of peace of mind having my parents with me.
If my parents were living alone I'd be worried about them a lot more than I do now, even if we had a daily check in call, or they had a duress alarm with them at all times, things can go wrong. Someone can fall after their check in call and lie in pain for nearly 24 hours, and its hard to press that duress button when you're not conscious. With my parents here I know their baseline - I can easily see change and decline. I know they are eating, sleeping, going to the doctor when warranted, not climbing up ladders to change light bulbs, and they aren't shy about asking for what they need done for them - whereas if I lived out of home they might not want to bother me with requests, or they might not want to wait to get that light bulb changed - its all fairly immediate and the temptation to take risks is extinguished.
My parents are also far less vulnerable living with me, my presence helps deter scammers and intruders. I was shocked by the amount of scam callers my parents were receiving at home, but with me here to answer the phone that quickly stopped. Having someone young seen coming and going from the house all the time - and my trusty dog - helps people think twice about targeting our house for a break in or vandalism. My poor grandmother and aunt were constantly experiencing home break-ins in their final years, both were elderly and my aunt was vision and hearing impaired. It was very stressful and my grandmother was very lucky not to be beaten (it kills me that we have come to saying its lucky an old woman wasn't beaten in her own home) because she caught a guy in her room at night and started hitting him with her hot water bottle.
I watched my mother stress for many years because she lived interstate from her family at the time they needed her the most. Its very hard to be apart, not that being together is all roses either but it does allow a family to be able to personally care for and protect each other. My grandmother made it to 97 still living in her own home to her last day, and I'd like to think my parents won't need to leave their home either.
Living together with family of different generations is one of the most amazing experiences - it gives an incredible perspective of life, it challenges and engages both old and young alike, and builds connections and empathy that I can personally attest were lacking in our family before this chapter of our lives began.
I carried with me for many years an incredible amount of pain and emotional baggage from the relationship I had with my dad when I was a child. His constant refusal to acknowledge or empathize with me caused more and more damage along the way and we just could not get along. The journey of living with my parents, feeling protective of them, caring for them, and even facing the possibility of losing them at different crisis points, has given me the opportunity to build a relationship in the here and now and let go of the need for a really very specific vision of closure that I had, and get actual closure.
As difficult as this journey can be, it has been the very thing I needed, and I believe has been essential and good for all three of us. My parents are safe with me, and I am here to enjoy them and be part of their lives and to share my life with them.
However, my friends are not facing this journey yet, and caring for seniors and the elderly can be fairly isolating and I am looking to build a like minded community for support, friendship, laughter, and inspiration. I'd love to hear from you if you have older parents, grandparents, or family/friends that you care about. Your comments, experiences, questions, and basically anything you would like to share can be so very helpful and will really be appreciated.