I believe in being responsible for my elderly parents.
When I was young, I used to tell my parents that I would take care of them in their old age. I was their late in life baby and realized that by the time I reached adulthood, they would be in their golden years. I was sincere about my promise, but honestly didn’t really understand what it would entail.
Parent care moved into the back of my mind as I grew older and became focused on my own life. I watched some of my friends go through different ordeals with their parents, and thanked God every night that it wasn’t happening to our family. Then the day came that changed our lives.
In 1996, my husband and I were catching a flight to Tokyo Japan for an assignment with the military. We said goodbye to my parents and boarded the plane. We could see them through the window as the plane pulled away from the gate. “Lord,” I pleaded, “Please take care of them while I’m away.” The flight to Japan took 17 hours, and it took another 3 to get to our hotel. I went to the pay phone in the lobby to call my parents and let them know we arrived safely. Mom answered the phone somberly. “Dad had a stroke,” she whispered. “He’s alive, but we don’t know how much damage has taken place.” The world started spinning.
Mom decided to care for him at home. She had a hospital bed, wheelchair, lift, and ramp brought into the house. Therapists and home health care workers came on a regular basis to assist. I received a compassionate reassignment so I could help her. I had convinced myself how terrible it was going to be, remembering how drastically my friends’ lives had changed earlier. What I found was that the thought of the situation was a hundred times worse than the actuality of it. Once my parents and I got over our awkwardness, caring for my father became routine. He had needs and we simply addressed them. My mother’s needs were addressed as well, because caretaking is both physically and emotionally draining. When a situation surpassed our ability, we contacted professionals. Relationships with the local firemen developed as my father was transported to the hospital on several occasions. We engaged in this dance for four years. The firemen were called for transport. We knew this particular trip to the hospital would be his last. The doctors told us that he was dying. At times, he was so coherent and clear that it didn’t seem possible, but he did succumb early one morning.
My mother, now at age 82, still lives in the same house. I retired from my job so that I could stay in the area to care for her. She is a strong woman, but needs the help in order to stay independent. I consider it a privilege to be able to be there for her.