Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I'm hardly romantisizing caring for our elderly parents, and I don't doubt they want and deserve as much independence their years and health can afford them. They have lived a long life, they have raised their family. They have every understandable expectation of living their time with dignity, respect and around those they spent their lives caring for and are familiar with.
I don't guilt anyone for feeling ease with moving their parents into nursing homes. I won't do it, and my children won't do it. I've walked first hand and behind the scenes in many of those homes and I will not put a family member of mine in there. It's just a personal choice for us.
My children are being taught the value of other generations, of the special knowledge and connection to who they are and where they came from. That is what makes them who they will be one day. That connection is where they draw their strength and direction.
My grandmother will turn 90 this year, Lord Willing this Fall. She lives alone, in a home behind my mother's. She gets out every day and works in the yard, or shovels the drive of snow. She cooks for herself, she still handles her own bills and banking and makes her own decisions. She isn't being held back from living, she is a part of life in as many ways as she still can be.
At some point, of course, she will probably need more care, more hands-on attention than living on her own will afford her. She will most likely move into my mother's house at that point.
I'm not talking about pulling grandparents out of life and stashing them in the back room. Maybe they continue as long as they can living alone, but why is a nursing home more of an option than family living? Why do we immediately think first along those lines instead of keeping our parents or grandparents at home, with family and celebrating the lives good or bad or otherwise that gave us the life we have?
What makes our country so narrow that we stop valuing the lives of those before us at some point in time, yet so many other countries have embraced it?
Where do you want to be when you grow older according to someone else's terms? Not thought of as a duty or a burden, certainly, but as one cherished and cared about deeply I would think. That is what my children are being taught.
What everyone chooses for their family is what works for them I'm sure. It's just sad to have a generation thrown aside and left behind.
Sent from my BlackBerry Smartphone provided by Alltel


As Simply As We Can said...

Well Deanna, I'll just share my thoughts on it. And to be completely transparent, my thoughts on this subject are not even 100% crystal clear even to my own self.

There is so much gray. So much.

As you know, I took care of both of my parents during their illnesses and the time of them dying. It was a little over five consecutive years all told. I cared for them at home and they were never put in a nursing home, with the exception of one period of time for my father which lasted less than 24 hours.

They were wonderful parents. They loved me dearly and deeply. So I was not caring for them with a chip on my shoulder. I loved them and the thought of putting them in a nursing home literally ripped me in two and made me physically sick.

And yet, on some level, knowing what I know now...I'm not sure I would make the same decisions that I made back then. There was a very, very high price that I paid...and my husband paid...and my children (ages 5 & 6 at the beginning)paid. And I am not sure that what we went through was fair to my husband and kids. It is something that if you have not lived through personally, you cannot fathom what it is like. Like...before you have kids, you can't really know how strong a mother's emotion toward her young is or if you've never been in love with someone, you don't know how having that happen opens all these doors in your heart that you didn't even know were there.

It's like that. There is more to it than the average person knows.

There is a difference between taking care (at home) of an elderly loved one who is simply ill and needs help and attention and love and taking care of someone who has forgotten who you are and whoever you are...they don't like you. And as a matter of fact, they don't like your husband or your kids and they make quite certain that all parties involved know just how much they dislike them. When you don't sleep for nights on end because you never know when someone is going to wander out into the street. When you wake up at 2 am to find the elderly family member in your 7 year old's room in the middle of the night...speaking gibberish to a child they have awoken and who is frightened. And these things are the rule and not the exception.

I could go on...and on...and on. But I won't - I'm just trying to show that once you have been knee deep in this issue, you no longer see it as a black and white thing. There are so many shades of gray here that one can easily get lost in them. I loved my parents so much and it hurt so bad to see how the end of their lives played out. I feel that I did as I should have. But I also feel that the price that my little family unit - my husband and children paid...the price was just too great. That if I had it to do over...I would have to make different decisions than I did before. Even though making those decisions would rip me apart.

No matter which side of this issue a person falls on, when the rubber hits the road and you have to make the decision and execute will not walk away unscarred. It is one of the hardest things that there is.

As Simply As We Can said...


When I wrote this, I had not even read your previous post yet...just wanted to make sure you know I wasn't trying to stubbornly get my side across or anything...far from it...just adding in my experiences. :-) Hugs~~

Rose said...

I moved in with my grandmother, and took care of her after my grandfather died. It wasn't easy! In fact, one day she reverted to speaking Polish( which she grew up speaking, and had not spoken in over 50 years),boy did I have a time that night. She was fine the next day, but Passed away within 2 weeks.

Dawn said...

I was touched to read your posts on the elderly of our families. I had the privledge of taking care of my Grandmother while her health was declining and her mind was disappearing due to demintia. I learned so much about human behavior in that time. She touched my heart in ways that she never could have before. Sometimes I could look to her eyes and see that she knew exactly who I was and that we were in this together. My sister and mother took most of her earthly things. I got the most valuable thing that she had left. Her time. I had her to myself for a year. I didn't have to share her because my family saw her as damaged. My brother would say things like,"She doesn't know who I am anyway." I know that she knew who I was. She may not have known my name, but she knew my face. She knew my actions and touch. I wouldn't change that year for the world. It was hard. My husband was deployed and I was left to take care of her alone. I would have to lift her and bathe her. I spoon fed her and changed her. I still would do it all over again.

Momma Knows said...

This conversation so touches my heart. I have two elderly grandmas, both living states away. One lives in a nursing home, and the other lives in an adult family home where she is only one of 5 residents. I also now have an aging, ill father, and aging in-laws. I am also a CNA in a nursing home. I read the comments before mine, so I will include my thoughts on these as I write. Working in a skilled nursing facility has taught me a lot, too, just as Dawn said above. I have come to adore the residents who have dementia, even as their family members drift away, because "She doesn't know who I am". They can be challenging, sweet, angry, nostalgic, unbelievably sad, or even dangerous, but inside they are still THEM, and connecting with them is of utmost importance, whether the 'window' is open for 30 seconds or 15 minutes. My Gramma who lives in a nursing home doesn't know who I am on the phone, but the last time we went back to see her, she knew me the entire time we were there. It is hard, I know.

My husband and I have discussed the aging issues with his parents, and have agreed that a nursing home isn't an option unless absolutely necessary. There are some areas of care which must be handled by a skilled professionals. One way to handle this would be to hire in-home care, which is probably what we will do if we must.

I also must say, that while I fully believe that the process of dying should happen within the context of the family, long term care should be LEARNED by family members intending to care for others! I have seen some of the most horrendous incidents of bed sores in patients who come to us for respite care, for a weekend or a week, while their family goes on a vacation or has something come up. The excuses are typical "She only likes to lay on her back", or "He lays on his left side so he can see the TV". All it takes is a slight shift of weight to take the pressure off of an area.

Please, if you are going to do the long term care of your aging family members, take some classes. Learn how to do transfers, handle incontinence issues, skin care and to prevent and recognize skin breakdown. Learn about nutrition in the elderly, medications, diabetic care, and dementia care and safety issues. It may be as simple as going to your local nursing home and taking the NA-C course. Mine was 3 weeks long. You will learn more than you ever thought you'd need, but you WILL need it. Pressure sores are preventable, and difficult to get rid of once they begin.

If you find you are unable to care for your family member, please don't feel guilty about that. Get help. In-home care or a nursing home may be your own answer, and that is okay. Just stay involved in their care. So many of my residents live there without regular visits from family. Where I work, we have a policy that 'No one dies alone'. We have a very special hospice program and ensure that end of life care is done the way the resident and family want. I love the people I care for, but no nursing home is perfect. The aides often have too many people to care for (I usually have 11-12 on an evening shift) and we can't be everywhere at once. Caring for your family member will have its ups and downs, as I am sure caring for ours will be. But your heart is where it needs to be when you are doing it, and the Lord will bless you for it.


Jeremiah 6:16
Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.

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