I’m a big girl now

I grew up last week.

My parents’ health has been failing for a while now.  Back in November I had “the talk” with them about seeking out an assisted care facility or a smaller apartment for them.  Last week, though, things came to a head and I ended up staying for a week ironing out details and moving them to an assisted care facility.

I thought I was a grown up before last week.  I was wrong.

Turns out taking care of your parents’ health and other issues of their aging makes you grow up in a whole other way.  I’ve done things I never imagined I’d do, from the financial to the ordinary, like laundry and clothes changes.

Here’s some things I learned during this entire process:

  1. When you think your parents are ready for Senior care, they may not be ready.  Back when we talked about assisted care in November, my parents seemed to be on board.  Then when things started progressing- a county assessment, a visit to a facility- they panicked.  They seemed to pull themselves up by their boot straps and take better care of themselves.  I thought maybe I had been wrong to push the issue.  However, things declined for them rapidly.  My dad got put on oxygen which took additional care.  My mother had worsening memory problems.  They didn’t eat or drink enough.  All of these things which led to them being hospitalized- at the same time.  At that point, THEY realized they were ready.  Just like someone who needs to stop smoking, the decision to change has to be their own.
  2. You will have to make a lot of decisions.  Some decisions may not be popular.  I come from a big, blended family.  I happen to be the only child between my parents.  As such, I was the one to make a lot of the big decisions.  Where would they live?  When would they move?  What would they take?  Big decisions.  I also made a TON of little decisions.  Do they take the couch or leave it?  Hang curtains or just use the blinds?  Buy a new toaster or keep the old one?  Little decisions.  I made a lot of decisions, and I know in fact that my siblings don’t agree with all of them.  I realize that we are all different people, with different opinions.  But someone had to make those decisions.
  3. Involve your parents in the process.  I asked my parents’ opinions with every step of the way.  I made sure they chose the major furniture that would go to the new place.  I made sure they were happy with the facility.  I asked questions- TONS of questions.  Mom wasn’t able to go shopping with me, so I either took pictures of purchases or brought the purchases themselves (things as simple as a new shower curtain) for her to approve.  If she hadn’t liked them, they would have been returned.  I knew that this was going to be my parents’ HOME.  I knew they had to feel at home there, because otherwise they wouldn’t thrive in their new environment.
  4. Sometimes you have to practice tough love. My dad has difficulty breathing, and it’s hard for him to get around.  He’d rather sit in his armchair than do anything else.  He despises doctor appointments, and thinks most doctors are just out for the money.  (He had been cancelling more follow up appointments than I even realized.)  I had to sit him down tell him that he WOULD be going to doctor appointments.  I let him knew that his health concerns are complex, and these concerns take a lot of different appointments with different doctors.  I also talked to his nurses and care team, and made sure they were on the same page with me.  Did he like this?  Not very much.  But it had to be done.
  5. You will want to cry.  A lot.  I had around one or two break downs a day.  Sometimes it was in the car, driving from one place to the other.  One day it was in their new place.  I just sat down in the corner and cried.  Other times it was at night before bed.  Yes.  I cried.  A lot.  Moving your parents to an assisted care facility is a lot like mourning a death.  You’re mourning the active life your parents used to have.  You’re mourning the people they used to be.  You’re sad that they’re aging.  There’s a lot of feelings there.  But once I got down to it and sobbed, I felt much better and could move on with whatever I was working on at the moment.  Taking that time to mourn got me through the whole process.
  6. You will see your parents in a whole new light.  Your parents are human beings.  Real, living, breathing, aging human beings.  I watched my parents kiss each other goodbye in the hospital.  I listened to their concerns and hopes.  I helped them go through daily tasks that are easy for me.  I saw embarrassment over bodily functions they couldn’t control.  I saw them keep their humor and their love for each other through huge changes.  I saw them as people I hope Dan and I can be someday.

Last week was one of the hardest weeks I’ve ever had to live through.  It was exhausting and emotional, and there’s a few things I would go back and change.  But it’s something I knew I would have to do, sooner or later.  People age.  It’s a fact.  And frankly, my parents took care of me for many years.  They loved me, helped me through big changes, moved me to new houses, held my hand when I cried.  Doing the same for them was the least I could do.

At 36 years old, I guess I can finally say I’m a grown up.

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