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Ten Things I Wish I Had Done With My Parents Before…

December 7, 2015 • Laurie Newbound

l.   I wish I had had more substantive conversations with them about the kind of care they would want as they aged, and especially where they wanted to live and the kind of situation that would best suit them.  They lacked an ability to imagine a future life different than the one they were currently having, they couldn’t/wouldn’t see that things were going to get worse.

2.   I wish we had agreed on and put in writing what circumstances would make it so they couldn’t drive anymore.  More of an IF this happens, THEN this happens. ( If my parents had been even five years younger, this conversation might have been much easier, they could have kept their independence while gradually giving up driving with Uber.  I honestly believe Uber could be, if it isn’t already, a real game changer for older adults. )

3.   I wish I had set it up to have gotten their permission to have private conversations with their doctors BEFORE it was badly needed.  It was way too loaded after the fact and more difficult to get.

4.   I wish my brother and I had been able to set up power of attorney with or over them and their affairs while they were still mentally fully competent.  This would have been challenging, but it would have spared us years of worry about the, at the time, real possibility that one of them would do something very foolish with their finances.

5.   I wish I had recorded more video of them and interviewed them about their lives and our family’s history.

6.   I wish I had risked their anger by being more insistent when it came to answers about their health.  I was too often dismissed, both by them and sometimes by their own doctors.  I worried more than I should have about embarrassing them, and things could have been done that might have increased their chances for a longer, healthier old age.

7.   I wish I had been more patient, and taken things less personally.  I shouldn’t have taken their forgetfulness or confusion as proof that they weren’t interested in me or my work and family.

8.   I wish I had tried harder to keep them socially engaged with their friends.

9.  I wish I had said, “I love you,” more than I did.   Frustrated by their stubbornness, mood swings and rudeness, the words didn’t always come easily, but that is not an excuse.

10.   I wish I had gotten myself more help as I went through this process.  I am still wondering exactly what that would have looked like, which is one of the reasons I have created this website, to help people in this situation find, support and advise each other.

7 thoughts on “Ten Things I Wish I Had Done With My Parents Before…

  1. Debbie Alpert says:

    I may do more of these with my dad while I still have the chance. Thanks for the suggestions.

    1. Laurie Newbound says:

      Yes, Debbie, it’s a fine line with parents between keeping them and others safe but not taking away independence before it’s absolutely necessary. In my experience, the kids usually recognize it before the parents, which makes for some tense conversations. However, I have also seen parents give up freedoms before the kids thought it was necessary and even that can cause tension. It ain’t easy, which is why the more we can do BEFORE things go rocky the better for everyone.

  2. Malcolm says:

    This is a great list and roadmap for anyone going through this, Laurie. I experienced many of these exact things with my dad, and I bet most people do as well, unless they are lucky enough to have exceptionally conscious parents. I was lucky though that my dad stopped driving on his own one day after driving home from work shortly before he formally retired. It was a sad day, but I was grateful I didn’t have to confront him. I don’t know why happened that day, he didn’t say and I didn’t want to press it because it was hard enough for him to do it, but I imagine something happened that made him realize he could be a danger to others and he took immediate action. With the doctors, I had much of that with both may dad and his doctors and other family members, only for me it was me pressing for answers and my dad was embarrassed. I challenged the HMO doctor who was pushing his appointments downstream. I also wish I had had done more recorded interviews. By the time I did ask, he was too self-conscious when I brought out the recorder and just shut down. And I didn’t record any with my mother because it was too open an acknowledgement that she was dying and I wanted to give her the support she needed to fight her best fight, but I wish now I had so there was some record of her vice and her thoughts to help explain who she was to the grandson she never knew. My most salient conclusion from all of this is, there is never, or perhaps rarely, a perfect landing, and to embrace that seeming imperfection as its own kind of perfection, a perfection of both self acceptance and acceptance of our parents as people struggling imperfectly with their own humanity. It levels the playing field as they enter their final years, and there can be golden moments, no matter how tiny, they matter. In one I cherish, my dad was in the midst of a moment of clarity, when suddenly he began talking what sounded like nonsense. I could see the instant he realized the fog was returning, and he was crushed. I told him I was following him perfectly, and it wasn’t his fault, he wasn’t crazy, he just had a lot more mental clutter to contend with than before, and for just a moment he allowed himself to take that in as a comfort. It was a brief but very real moment of connection, perhaps the last of that clarity. If I were to do it again, I’d be more self-accepting and focus more on the lighthearted moments and the little joys and connections that are possible, if possible, though I know they are not always possible. Thank you for putting all of this out there so eloquently. It has helped me clarify some feelings Inhave also had…:)

    1. Malcolm says:

      …and also, the real moment I cherish with my Dad from that night when he had a moment of clarity that quickly faded, is that I was able to tell him that despite the loss of his mental faculties, (which he described as walking down a dark hall with the doors closing ahead of him one by one), I could see him…through all the mental clutter he was dealing with, that the clutter was not him, that he was still intact. He almost burst into tears. He understood me, and he was seen, and I was seen by him. In that instant, I could see that he was OK, and that he would be OK no matter what. I think it gave him the courage to go on. He was not lost. He was seen and found. It’s the gift we give each other every day when we’re at our best. I am so grateful I could be present for that moment…:)

  3. Laurie Newbound says:

    Love that describing of walking down a dark hall, I can absolutely see it as if it were a piece of art in front of me….just heartbreaking. Thank you so much for your comments.

  4. Pat Frazer says:

    I wish that I could have been less corrective, more supportive and more relaxed with my dad.

    When I felt that it was my job to right the wrong name or the half remembered date, I wish I had smiled instead and said, “Sure dad, I know what you mean”. What difference did it make anyway?

    When dementia had caused reality to merge with fantasy and dad felt the beautiful spokesmodel on tv had visited him in his living room, I wish I had agreed that there really was a possibility of the two of them dating. What difference did it make anyway?

    When dad begged that a daily shower was too much, I wish that I had agreed instead of insisting that it was a requirement. What difference did it make anyway? (BTW, I don’t take one on Sundays anymore mmm…)

    When you are deep into the care manager role, sometimes you tend to be too bossy, too authoritative, too intense. I wish I had stepped back and tried to enjoy our precious time together. It went away all too soon.

    1. Laurie Newbound says:

      What a beautiful comment, Pat. And, yes, good to remember for those of us who have parents who are still here but struggling mentally. In my case, though, it’s a bit of a comedy. My dad will refer to visiting his mother “this morning,” when she died thirty years ago. And at that moment my mom will look confused and say, “your MOTHER?”, and I will have to admit to my mom that, no, you’re right, Dad’s mother is gone, which then gets my father arguing with both of us. Other times it’s the opposite, it depends on the day. These days if I am alone with my Dad I will now let him go on without correcting him, although there are times when I feel he is looking to me to make things clear. Keeps me on my toes….

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