One day, out of the blue, four and a half years ago, I became what our family calls “the designated child.” My parents were aging, yet still living in their huge home in Kentucky. The news came to me via e-mail on September 29 (my mom’s birthday; it was a gift to herself, I think). The e-mail stated, “We bit the bullet and are selling the house; we are moving to Michigan. When you come for Thanksgiving, you may take back with you whatever you want.” And thus began my journey of being the only child within miles and miles and miles and oceans to help my parents.
My role had been relatively easy until April 7, when my mom fell and fractured her pelvis. All of a sudden, I found myself making decisions in the ER; being an advocate for my mom at The Inn (an assisted living place), making sure my dad had food in the house he could eat, which amounted to frozen dinners (with much instruction) and cereal, sandwiches, and yogurt.
After a month, I found myself not only doing most everything for my parents (though I could only care for one parent at a time), but also living with them. At 60 I was living with my parents. I turned the light out for them at night and jumped up at any sound I heard. Fortunately, I wasn’t hearing many sounds and within a week I was able to return to my own bed, only to be up and back at their apartment with my parents every morning. The parade of nurses and therapists and appointments was daunting for all of us!
On May 13, my sister arrived from across the ocean. God’s timing. This trip had been planned since late winter and her arrival saved my sanity, as well as added more stress to my sanity. But she came in with guns blazing and played the “bad cop,” helping our parents learn new ways of doing things together.
My sister left a few days ago, two months after our mom fell. In that time, I had to learn who I was and who I am and who I can continue to be as the challenges are greater now. Who am I when their body fails them? I don’t know yet. Each day and each new issue makes me wonder more and search more and rest more in the good Lord. For only God and those who support me can walk this journey by my side.
I recently read a quote by Ram Dass, a spiritual leader who says “we’re all just walking each other home.” I love that! I think that’s where I might fit into the journey with my parents. I’m the designated child to help walk my parents home. May I be given the grace to do this well.
Editor’s Note: A Bittersweet Season, Caring for Our Aging Parents – and Ourselves by Jane Gross is an excellent resource for both adult children and their aging parents. It discusses the nitty-gritty of care (assisted living vs. nursing homes, Medicaid requirements, Medicare coverage, emotional and physical needs of an aging person will need taken care of, the frustrations and weariness of care-giving, along with the joy of traveling the end of life journey of a loved one.)