Thursday, January 16, 2014

When the Best Plans Fall Apart....

We plan and we think we are ready for anything and then life happens…. Even with the best laid plans, expect that you are going to be knocked for a loop and totally discombobulated, if only for a little while.

In my observances and my experience, the best possible scenario for caring for aging parents doesn't always just happen. How many times I've heard, "Mom's the one in bad health and she'll die first….." And how many times it just doesn't happen that way.

Dad is a very young 80 and perfectly healthy as well as a good caregiver to Mom, but he needs a little assistance to make things easier. So you hire someone to help with Mom's personal care and a little housekeeping. Things should be OK for a while. Then suddenly Dad has a fatal heart attack and everything is turned upside down.

Mom has lived alone for 20 years and then she had to stop driving. She almost hit someone in her shared driveway and she surrendered the keys. Your friends are envious because it was so easy. You work out ways to assist her and help her stay in her own home. Then suddenly Mom has a small stroke and can no longer live alone. She has no savings. Her income is fixed and low. Her house has a reverse mortgage and the equity was eaten up long ago. Now what?

Suddenly you need to make decisions on a dime that will become permanent and impact your own life more than you ever expected. You thought this was in the bag and you would know what to do when more care was necessary. But life took cruel turns and you aren't prepared for what has to happen.

It will be overwhelming. You will have anger and fear and confusion and be somewhat paralyzed in trying to find solutions. You will want your life back more than you can imagine! And you will find yourself wanting to SCREAM!

My best advice: SCREAM!! Find somewhere where you can do so without scaring a neighbor or summoning the police. A train track can be ideal when the freight train passes by. Or a deserted beach. If all fails, turn on the shower, raise the volume on the TV or stereo, smother yourself into your pillow, and let go!

You will feel better. And you may find that over the course of the next months and years you need to do this regularly. It will help to save your sanity and your marriage. Teach your spouse your tricks and tips.

Prioritize and Delegate
Then you make lists and determine what you can and must do right away and then how you will sort through and find ways to make things work. Enlist your siblings and children to help with necessary tasks. They may not be willing or able to provide any direct care but they CAN help with other tasks so that you can do what has to be done. Don't let them off the hook and stop trying to do it all. It isn't easier to do it yourself now. And your sister won't do things exactly as you would, but she can do it and you can relax a bit. Learn to give up control and delegate.

Learn to Take Care of You
Slowly your wits will come back and your brain will begin to function again. You will find a semblance of routine and settle in to a new life. It won't be the one you had, but it won't be as awful as you recently imagined, at least not every day. You will see new options and make new plans.

Most of all take time for YOU! Don't lose yourself completely. Hang on and climb away from that knot at the end of your rope. Say NO to caregiver fatigue. Reward yourself with a few minutes of "me time" and take advantage every chance you get.