As I began to outline my book, The Complete Eldercare Planner over thirty years ago, I wrote the following words in a journal I was keeping at the time -- we don't choose elder care; elder care chooses us. Today that to-the-point phrase has never been truer.
I refer to elders as, "living answers." And I am never let down when caring for elderly parents and loved ones. When I talk with them, work with them, and sit quietly and hold their hand as they lay dying, I am the recipient of myriad secrets to a happy, peaceful life and death. The gifts are there after each and every encounter, and I am enriched beyond my comprehension.
Yet, so very often the caregiving journey is anything but peaceful. When I recall my elderly parents doing crazy things -- choosing to live alone in a house that is no longer safe or defiantly getting behind the wheel of the car when their ability to drive safely is clearly at risk -- there is no peace whatsoever in these situations.
So how do I consistently derive at the valuable lessons my elders have to teach during times like these? And what is my recourse when my heart is racing and I'm doing everything in my power to keep from lashing out at them at the top of my lungs that their irrational behavior is unacceptable and unquestionably childlike?
After ten long deep breaths (to calm me physically and emotionally), I begin the process of getting closer to them. My goal (no matter what is happening) is to be in a relationship. Whatever they are doing in the moment that is creating an elder care crisis of one kind or another is really an attempt on their part to belong and to be loved.
I can recall as a little girl waking up in the middle of the night and being terrified if someone forgot to close the closet door all the way. Even if the door was open a crack I became petrified that the unknown force in that closet would soon be upon me and would immediately cry out for my mom to come rescue me. And it's interesting that as I write these words about my childhood close-door experience that my throat is tightening up, my eyes are watering, and my stomach is turning into knots.
Fear is paralyzing. Fear makes us all do strange things. And yet, it is the emotion of fear that I count on when elder care responsibilities are upon me and I need to get crazy elder care situations back on track. As a seasoned elder care consultant, I have learned that elderly parents and loved ones are not a problem to be solved. They are people in search of a relationship, and seeking purpose and meaning until the day they die.
We don't choose elder care; elder care chooses us. Go to them as best you can. Be with them at this time in their lives. You are one of the fortunate few who are chosen for elder care.