8 minute read

Do you remember the first time you saw your parents cry?

I do. I was probably 6 or 7 at the time and I remember walking into my parents' bedroom, only to find my mom tearing up about something. At the time, I didn't know what she was crying about. And when asked today, she doesn't really recall either, as she's a quick to cry kind of person over something as small as an ASPCA commercial (a trait I get from her). But I do remember how it made me feel. For the first time, I realized my parents weren't these mega superheroes I had built them up to be. Superhuman? Yes. But perfect, indestructible beings? No.

I suppose for a 6 year old, this was a heavy-handed epiphany, but in a way, it made me feel a bit relieved, perhaps. It made them more real to me in a sense -- they had highs and lows, good days and bad days, and while no one ever likes seeing someone cry or experience any kind of pain or sadness (especially your parents), they're all emotions we can relate to -- because at the end of the day, we're all human.

At this point, I'll fast forward. To 31-year old me. I'm currently back at my childhood home in Reno. The past two weeks, which I've alluded to here in this post, have been a blur of hospital visits, doctor appointments, physical therapy sessions and the intermittent packing up of the house I spent the first 18 years of my life in. Why? Earlier this month, my mother had hip replacement surgery and, much like my 6-year old self, I didn't want to see her in any pain or have to struggle with anything. So I stepped in. Because I could. Because I wanted to. Because my parents raised me to handle situations like this, for the ones we love most. I suggested that she moved into a smaller apartment that didn't have stairs. She found the perfect flat however it's a couple of hours away from where I live which isn't ideal. Originally, we both thought it would be a problem however, I found some great cell phones on fanmisenior so I've decided to buy her one so that we can talk every day. Distance won't be an issue if we both have phones! I just want her to be happy. She's had a tough time recently.

Of course, it hasn't been easy. And I should say, on either of us, my mom or me (I have the fun task of packing up the house so she can downsize and move into a cute little apartment). But in all honesty, I think it's been more difficult for her, as the parent, who's so accustomed to being the one taking care of someone, that when the roles are reversed, it's a hard adjustment.

It is equally as hard for me as her child to adjust to our new roles and I have found it hard to get into that new mindset of having to care for her instead. I've tried to handle the moving and downsizing situation as best as I can, but she was adamant about what she wanted to do. As she is getting a bit older now and may experience some health concerns down the line, I thought it would probably be better if she moved into an assisted living community, one that is similar to Kisco La Posada as some of them specialize in different aspects of healthcare, and then at least she would be in the right place should anything happen. Not only that but she would be able to socialize with different people who are a similar age and this would do wonders for her confidence. But she decided against it, which is fine. Even though I'm the one who is looking after her, it is important that I respect her needs as best as I can. But it's been hard.

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After I opened up about this situation in my previous post, I was blown away not just by all the sweet comments and emails wishing her a speedy recovery but also by how many of you who could relate, as it's something that is perhaps inevitable for most people to experience at some point. You all had so many wonderful tips and anecdotal advice that I soon realized, there was no need for anyone to feel alone in this process -- I, for one, felt stronger every day hearing from you guys sharing how you navigated the process for yourself -- hence why I wanted to share it all here today.

Of course, every situation and family is different, but I do hope this can help many of you, as it did my mom and me.

  1. Jenn's mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer last year, at which point she became the decision maker, both medically and financially, for the family. Both her and her mother, to the best of their abilities, set aside emotions, and made decisions like business partners -- checking in often with each other regarding insurance coverage, treatment options and immediate next steps. She specifically set aside time to take on research herself, for doctors and facilities, so her mother could instead focus on rest and recovery.
  2. Sarah's mother has semantic dementia, which struck her in her late 50s, making for a daily struggle of mourning her diminished quality of life and for the fact Sarah can no longer really share her own life changes with her. But Sarah also notes, "there is a real sweetness to getting to care for someone who has sacrificed so much of themselves for you" -- and it moves her to volunteer with charities that support families dealing with Alzheimer's/dementia. Furthermore, getting help from things like assisted living irvine ca and other places has helped to improve the livelihoods of those suffering from dementia as well as elderly people.
  3. Dana's father was diagnosed with cancer two years ago and while he is in remission now, she recalls how unusual it was to see her Dad not quite act like, well, Dad. Her biggest piece of advice boils down to reminding yourself of every little thing they have done for you and how any kind of help, big or small, shows them what an amazing, strong and independent person you've become.
  4. Kat cautioned against controlling all situations (no one ever likes feeling powerless) but to step in if you feel their safety is in jeopardy. She also mentioned setting them up with a number of social media apps that might make their lives easier.

5. Kate's story admittedly made me cry. (I told you I cry easily.) Kate cared for her mother after a sudden diagnosis, noting that it was just as hard for her mother as it was for her. Unfortunately, her mother died 6 weeks later, but Kate considers that time they spent together a blessing. She urges children to take this time to ask their parents/loved ones things they've always wondered about them, which I've already started doing with my mom.

6. My good friend, Naty, also made me cry, with her story regarding her father's cancer diagnosis. As with many parents I'm sure, her father hated the idea of anyone feeling sorry for him and he definitely didn't like asking for help -- so it was hard for him to allow his family members to step in and provide assistance. Naty noted she always made a point to listen to him when he did feel like talking about how he was feeling, to make sure he felt heard and empowered. She also made a point to do things that would make him smile, laugh and ultimately get his mind off things for a minute.

7. Tina has cared for both of her parents, her mother most recently after a stage III breast cancer diagnosis. Thankfully, Tina's background in healthcare aided the process, but it ultimately took a toll on her, too. After becoming her mother's full time caregiver, she went to every radiation, every chemo treatment, every appointment -- a transition she wishes she had a professional to guide and talk to her about. She urges everyone who is considering taking on a similar role for their parents, to find a professional to discuss things over with, to help provide a sounding board for what is a very emotionally draining role. Tina goes on to note though, that she considers the chance to help her mother an honor and that it changed their relationship for the better.

8. Yaudy may not help her parents physically, but she helps support them back at home in Colombia, something she has done since she was 17 years old. Both her parents worked hard to send her to the US when she was 12 and she's happy to have the chance to help repay the sacrifices they made for her. You guessed it, I'm crying again.

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9. And finally, my good friend, Courtney is the original inspiration for this post, because he sent me the list I'm about to share with you here, that left me in tears after leaving the hospital one evening. His advice is as follows:

  • It's okay to be scared, overwhelmed and unprepared. It's not okay to stay there.
  • I can always find a way. It may not be easy or comfortable but there is always a path.
  • I don't need to sacrifice myself for my parent. It's okay to say no when you know it would hurt you in some form. Self-preservation benefits all parties.
  • Your parent is just as scared, confused, needy, angry etc. as you are and it's normal. Annoying at times, but normal.
  • Spend your parents' money if you need to. May they have the resources and foresight -- if so, use it because that is what it's there for.
  • Accept help from the most unlikely of places and curb your disappointment when others do not step up.
  • Wine is an acceptable meal alternative.
  • Let go of anything you are holding against your parents. Short of being a psychopath, your parents probably fucked you up simply by not knowing better.
  • Ice cream counts as an appropriate catch-all for most issues, problems and bribes.
  • Life will often show you the limits of your strength when you need it most. However, it never shows it to you in the package you expect.
  • You have a relationship with your parent. You and only you need to understand and accept it. At the end of this, be okay with your choices and fuck everyone else. Your parent is the only one who needs to know the whole story.

Do you guys have any stories you'd like to share regarding times when you've taken care of a parent or loved one? Any advice or tips you'd like to send my way?