by Lou Anne Dunn
With the holidays now behind us, your focus has probably moved on to what the new year will bring. But for some families, the holidays may have unwrapped something other than a gift. Whether due to distance or business, families are often reunited during the holidays after a long time spent apart. It’s not uncommon for adult children returning home to suddenly become aware of changes to their aging parents.
You may be surprised by the condition of your aging parent’s home, or the condition of your parents in general. They may have seemed very “together” the last time you were home and now they don’t appear to be doing as well. Maybe they are not able to keep up with the house or yard as well as before. Maybe they have lost weight or have admitted to no longer cooking for themselves or they are no longer getting out of the house like they did. It may be that they can’t remember things like they once did. This can be alarming and worrisome.
The reality is that we all age and it affects us all differently. If you see this happening in your family, take a deep breath and know that there are resources to help get everyone through this next chapter of your parents’ lives. You may want to be involved in the process, but remember: it’s not all on you.
Some families have a plan in place for this stage of life, but more commonly, it seems to sneak up on us. You may still be raising your own children when you are suddenly faced with also having to make decisions about your parents. If you fall into this category, you are part of the so-called “sandwich” generation, stuck in the middle, as you face caring for your kids and your parents at the same time.
While we all know that we won’t live forever, none of us likes to think about what the decline might look like. We believe we will be twenty forever (even when we are 60). It can be hard to let go of plans and dreams, no matter what our age. Admitting that things are changing physically and/or mentally is hard. Your parents are feeling the loss of control that they once had, and it can be very scary. They may be losing their physical mobility, family home, or their ability to drive (which they equate to freedom). Be sensitive to this and tread lightly with your comments and suggestions—but don’t let it stop you from having the conversations. Their safety is paramount.
A family discussion is the best way to determine what comes next. Your parents may need assistance from here forward. They may need to downsize to more manageable living arrangement, be it to a smaller home, with a family member or into a facility. This is such an important decision and should not be decided haphazardly, or without discussion. If it is in their best interest to downsize or relocate, know that this could begin one of the most stressful events in their lives, barring major tragedies. It will likely be stressful for you as well. There are ways to make the transition less stressful.
Allow your parent to have as much input as possible. It is critical to keep them involved if they are able. While you may have to make decisions at times that are uncomfortable, always respect that they are your parents. It will be hard for them to accept what is often seen as a role reversal. Plan as much time as possible to go through their belongings with them. While this can be a time-consuming process, it is actually a gift. This is a chance to hear the untold stories of their past.
The reason people hold onto things is often for fear of forgetting or losing the memory. Once they share the story, it’s easier to release the item. Treasure those stories and help your parents release their collections knowing that you now also carry the memory with them. This can be a very rewarding time in your life and theirs. You never know what you may learn. Encourage them to tell their stories and seek to find the positive in change.
Lou Anne Dunn is the owner of Neatly Dunn Professional Organizing. Assisting in senior home transitions, including downsizing, is a passion for her. For more information, visit www.NeatlyDunn.com or call 252-341-2437.