Caring for Aging Parents from a Distance

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Caring for Aging Parents from a Distance

Social distancing has made those of us caring for aging parents face challenges we could never have ever imagined nor predicted.

The isolation and shut-in is hard on nearly everyone, but it’s been particularly difficult for our aging population who are frequently already socially isolated, dependent and medically frail.

Caring for aging parents pre-pandemic was already complicated and emotional.

No matter how rewarding caregiving can be, how much we love them and are grateful to still have them in our lives, it’s stressful to add their increasing needs to our already overwhelming midlife plate.

Now with the pandemic shut down and social distancing, trying to juggle the doctor visits, the shopping, the errands, the visits, the medications…

Are they eating well? Sleeping well? Getting any exercise? Oy! COVID-19 has meant several additional layers of complication and worry have been stuffed into the already overfilled enchilada that is caregiving to begin with!

And so, many of us have had to navigate not only our own jobs (or lack thereof), our bills, our teenagers, our face-covered-ready-for-battle missions out for toilet paper and food, but also to figure out how to cope with continuing to safely care for our elderly moms and/or dads.

Nearly two months in, there have been some tough and heartbreaking lessons, as well as a handful of beautiful lessons to take away from this pandemic that we’ll likely never forget.

 

Lesson learned. Nothing replaces the human touch.

So many of us provide care and support for our aging parents and we’ve taken for granted the ability to stop by, to talk face-to-face, to touch and hug and be present.

We get so wrapped up in our busyness and to-do lists that we sometimes overlook how important physical nearness is. How much love is exchanged in being near each other, but even more distinctly in being fully present with someone we love, regardless of the distance.

I admit it. So often I go in and out of my elderly mom’s home like a full blown tornado. Abruptly spinning in, dropping groceries, clearing counters, tidying bathrooms, grabbing mail and bills, taking out her garbage, throwing a pat on her dog’s head and quick kiss hello and goodbye on my mom’s cheek before spinning back out the door, before she barely gets to talk to me.

 

Lesson learned. Do less so what we do means more.

Have I treated caregiving for my mom like jshe is ust another one of the tasks on my to-do list?

Sometimes, maybe. I think I could have done better. And I intend to when we get out of this lock down.

It’s not the errands and tidying that truly matter (although I respect their importance to her well-being). It’s the human interaction. It’s sitting down and setting aside my mental chatter and distractions.

It’s making eye contact with her and giving her space to speak, at her speed, not mine. With her dementia, she often speaks in circles, repeating the same few questions or comments. Just because she doesn’t make much sense doesn’t mean the conversation isn’t valuable and worthy. To both of us.

Have you been less mindfully present with your aging parents than you would like to be? If you are blessed to still have both or either of your parents, maybe the lesson will be to slow the eff down.

Do fewer of the does-this-really-matter tasks and give yourself and your mindful attention to the moments that do matter. The ones you can’t get back. Like moments with your kids. Moments with your mom or dad.

 

Lesson learned. Guilt fixes nothing.

Whatever you may have been able to do to care for your aging parents from a distance has to be enough.

Whether you’ve been able to drop groceries, medications, spring plants, or mail cards, letters, or Facetime, or send photos or if all you were able to do was to call by phone to check in – it has to be enough.

Your guilt fixes nothing. It doesn’t change the curve of the pandemic. It doesn’t alter who will become infected, nor who will survive. Guilt only serves to drain your energy and make you feel worse.

You are doing the best you can on any given day for your aging parents, even when it doesn’t feel like it measures up. You did not cause this situation. You can not control the outcomes but only do your part to stay well and follow guidelines to help keep your loved ones and your parents safe.

Instead of feeling guilt and beating yourself up about it, consider how you can reframe what has happened into living more mindfully moving forward. Being more intentionally present with those people you love when you get the chance to be near them.

Giving yourself and your loved ones the gift of undivided attention, even if brief, is a lesson we can learn from this experience.

 

Lesson learned. We must advocate for a better way.

Those in long-term care, assisted living and senior housing were hit especially hard with the virus and sadly, so many passed away alone and without the love, warmth and presence of their family around them.

I understand these unprecedented circumstances, but to me, intentional isolation of the dying is inhumane.

Yes, isolation prevents additional infections, and we can’t blame the healthcare workers – surely they are doing the best they can.

But the system needs to change for the future. We can not let our parents die alone in fear and isolation should this type of pandemic continue or recur.

We must demand better preparation and protocols to protect, care for, love and support our hospitalized loved ones as they pass from this world.

 

Lesson learned. Distance can’t weaken love.

Let me remind you today that you are not alone and that it can certainly be hard. And you may be grieving or battling guilt. It’s normal and you will work through it and grow from it.

Maybe we didn’t handle things perfectly, but we are merely humans. Many of our parents have loved us despite our flaws, they feel no differently about how deep their love is for us regardless of their age, health, or confinements.

There is no amount of separation or neglect or distance or disease that can ever weaken love.

Allow yourself grace and peace during this challenging, emotional season of caring for our aging parents from a distance. – Marlene

A few resources on caregiving for aging parents during coronavirus that may be helpful:

Centers for Disease Control – Coronavirus
John Hopkins Medicine – Coronavirus and Caring for the Elderly
AARP – Practical Tips for Caregivers Concerned About Coronavirus

 


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