Helping your Parents through the Golden Years

August 4, 2013
When you’re little, your parents are the ones who take care of you. They feed you, clothe you, kiss your boo-boos, and try to protect you from any harm. As you get older, it is not uncommon for these roles to reverse in their golden years. Sometimes it is heartbreaking to watch as the years take a toll on their bodies, leaving you with a sad, helpless feeling.
The first time I truly experienced this reversal of roles was two years ago, when my mother underwent a triple bypass open heart surgery and suffered serious complications. She lost two weeks of her life when her blood oxygen level bottomed out and had to be put back on a vent. Even when she was able to be taken off, her recovery was a long, slow process, with many setbacks and bumps in the road along the way. I watched this woman of strength who once enjoyed her independence change during the difficult period of time to someone who was unsure of herself and her physical capabilities. For a long time, she was scared to be alone, and although she did make a full recovery, she never quite got back to that person she once was.
Her poor body underwent so much during this time, and there were many nights I would cry myself to sleep because I couldn’t help her. All I could do was be there for her as much as possible. Even now after all this time, her health continues to decline, and it is hard on both of us. For her, because she is the one who has to hurt so much and gets frustrated because her body won’t cooperate with her and me because I know how much she hates to ask for help in any way.
My father has always been a very healthy man, with the exception of some eye problems in the past few years. The only regular medication he takes on a daily basis is vitamins. That’s quite an accomplishment for a man who is 66 years old.
 Last Friday, he had surgery of his right eye to remove scar tissue from a previous laser surgery six years ago. It was a textbook procedure and everything went beautifully. I took him home Saturday and he was delighted and seemed so relieved that everything had went so well. He was looking forward to being able to see properly again in that eye. He even drove himself home from my house.
When he called me later that evening, I had a hunch something was wrong. He said he could no longer see in that eye at all and was experiencing what he thought was a sinus headache. We were told to return to the Birmingham ER at UAB, so we got there as quickly as possible. Daddy was in so much pain by the time we got there that it scared me. He rarely complains with anything at all, so I knew it was very serious. His condition just seemed to be deteriorating, and it was hard for me to remain calm for him.
His Dr. told us his eye was terribly infected and he would have to undergo surgery to remove the infection. He seemed baffled as to how this could have happened so quickly, because it has never happened to any of his patients before. Just another reason not to panic, right?
After the surgery, when he came to talk to me, the good Dr told me the infection was moving so rapidly, that if we had waited until the next morning to come, he would have been permanently blind. The source of the infection turned out to be strep, most likely coming from an underlying sinus problem he was not even aware of that had gotten into his tear duct and then in his eye.
Daddy was admitted into UAB hospital where he treated very aggressively, with the strongest antibiotics you can find. The Dr. is not quite confident that he will regain his vision in that eye. It is still a work in progress. The infection is under control now and his pain is at a minimal but it will be weeks before we know the outcome. He has begun to see just a little light, but mostly still experiencing darkness.
I’ve seen some kids get agitated at the thought of having to tend to their parents as their age grows in numbers and their health begins to decline, and it makes me angry. These are people that have loved you since birth and have been there for you every step of the way. Had they not cared for your well-being, your existence would not even be a factor.
Put yourself in their shoes and think about it from their perspective. When one’s health takes a downward spiral, they lose a great deal of their independence and dignity. Just the smallest things they have always been able to do for themselves is no longer possible and they become frustrated, having to rely on others to help them. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard my mother and father say to me “ I’m sorry you’re having to do this for me” when it doesn’t bother me in the least. I am just glad to be able to do it for them.
Remember, your parents aren’t going to be here forever, so love them while you still can and do everything in your power to let them know you are there for them. Because, when they pass, you will miss even the smallest of times with them. These precious beings were a gift from God, chosen as your special caretakers for life. Be kind, respectful, and courteous of their needs. They are still human beings who have feelings, not just someone who requires your time. One day, if God is willing, you will be in that same position and you wouldn’t want harsh treatment from anyone, especially not your children.
And one last bit of advice, remember to teach your kids respect, but be nice to them because they will be the ones choosing your nursing home one day. Have a good week!
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