“When the Call Came to Care for Dad…”

A son built his own life far from his hometown where he knew his father was well cared for by other family members. After his wife died, he remarried, and continued his phone relationship with his family. Ten years later, the son was called on to become primary caregiver for his dad, and also to honor a deathbed promise to his first wife.

Key Points:

• A Deathbed Promise

• Building a New Life

• An Urgent Call About Dad

• When family needs mandate a change in plans

Dr. Massey”s Comments…

Dennis joined the military as a young man, taking him away from his hometown in NJ. After that, NJ became the place for family visits. After 30 years of marriage, he lost his wife to cancer. He met and married Brenda 11 years ago. She was a widow from NE with 2 school-aged children who lost her husband at age 45 to a freak work accident.

Dennis has a brother in NJ who is battling cancer; his sister-in-law has been one of the primary caregivers for her father-in-law for years. Now, she cares for her husband, too. Last year, she told Dennis that caring for both these men was overwhelming. “Please take Dad,” she said. Dad is 95. Dennis retired several years ago and built the home of his dreams on a lake about a five hour drive from NJ.

Dennis has been a good son, even from a distance. Still, his relationship with his father was not what we would call intimate. Yet, he immediately understood that it was his turn. With his wife’s ready agreement, they signed on to become his father’s primary caregivers. When it became clear that dad would need a nursing home, they researched well, found a good fit for him within a half hour’s drive from their home, and incorporated him into their lives in a personal way.

I want to emphasize the importance of this change both for the dad and for his son. Many families online casinos find themselves in Dennis and Brenda’s position. They may not manage the transitions well; they may not grow in relationship with their parents. They may or may not honor, value, or visit their parents with the regularity and care that Dennis has demonstrated. When lives are interrupted to incorporate an aging parent into daily activities, the challenges impact everyone. Parents often require emotional presence when they are old, fragile, and perhaps frightened about change. If families add caregiving to very full lives, they may or may not be attuned to the parent’s needs and miss the emotional component. The parent may or may not see their child’s needs.

It takes some vision about how to manage the care to survive transition times. The transition is not meant to be the sign of the future. It’s a temporary and often awkward or disquieting disturbance of the status quo in order to re-balance into a new status quo. If it is managed poorly, it does become the sign of the future – because the parent comes to distrust the care, feels like a burden, knows he or she is unable to care for self, and adds depression to the list of symptoms.

Dennis and Brenda were on the same page. She was open to caring for her father-in-law with her husband, reducing his challenges by 50%. Dennis’ readiness to lend himself to the care eased his father’s fears; his practical nature saw the adjustment as a problem to be solved. And so they all solved the problem. They have evolved a plan that exists today. It works for them.

Some folks in Dennis’ position may not be retired. They may still be working, not free to visit and care for emergencies. Of course, this is a greater tactical and emotional challenge. Adding more to schedules and being emotionally grounded enough to shift gears to add a needy person to their lives is and will continue to be a challenge for families. We must talk about it openly, find the sticky places, see them as problems to be solved, and hold dear the person who is aging. Can we do that with love and respect for the elderly? ‘We can do it’ many will say, but can we do it in such a way that the aging parent feels the care?

The challenge is complicated by the fact that our elderly come from a different generation. They want things done their way, too. They don’t like change either, and they want to tell their adult children how to do their jobs. They may be less articulate than they used to be; they may be grumpy and critical; they may be demanding; or they may not be able to speak at all except with their eyes. This and other complications to managing well the transition times with our elderly (forced on us or lovingly chosen) will continue to emerge over the next 30 years. We really must talk about family relationships, our own set lives, and how to manage what life asks of us in the name of another’s care.

I’ll close this commentary with a note about Dennis’ deathbed promise to his first wife, who was an only child – hence, her concern about her mother in later years. It’s a testimony to Dennis’ moral character that he would honor her request to care for her mother until the end. Brenda’s respect for family freed her from even a hint of jealousy that might exist in another couple. Dennis was free to openly love and tend to his former mother-in-law to the end. And, so he did.

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Dr. Mary Ann Massey

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