Dear style & substance:
I was recently the “least busy” of my siblings, so was the obvious choice to come home to the Plattsburgh area to assist my aging parents with making some decisions about much needed assisted living and cleaning up the house where we all grew up. This is so much more emotional than I had imagined and I am really struggling not only with my parents but with my own emotions. Any suggestions?
To start, there are two sides to this coin that got flipped or the short straw that got pulled to choose YOU as the designated helper….you can decide that it was a bad draw because it is inconvenient, frustrating and a place where criticism is at a premium from your siblings OR you can see it as a lasting gift you can give to your parents and yourself because you decided it was special, meaningful and necessary. Your choice!
Perhaps you can also just accept the emotional ups and downs you will experience during your time at “home”. Letting the emotions come and go throughout this time allows you to be a little less attached to them. Your parents, even though you haven’t lived with them recently, have a very powerful place in your heart, and therefore evoke emotions that may blindside you! Let them flow!
Clarify what you are trying to accomplish with this journey home. Let your parents know that this transitional process is their ship to steer, you are merely the assistant.
Engaging your parents in conversations through memories and stories is a perfect way to spend time in cleaning and preparing for the next phase in their life. This oral tradition of your family may surprise and delight you, in that the things they have kept (which may seem like “worthless stuff” to you) are very meaningful and have a story to be told. You may choose to box things up for siblings. This process can make a quiet and withdrawn parent come alive. Record little notes to pass on and definitely use your voice to reminisce as well. These stories can be reintroduced during meals, a traditional time to come together. They have the power to bring joy, or in other cases, closure to unfinished business or emotions you have carried with you over the years.
You may find that the tasks seem endless; there may be cleaning, organizing, packing, and on top of this, the tasks of daily living; shopping, meals, bill paying, and so on…make a daily list and share this with your parents. This will give you a sense of order and may alleviate some of the fears or concerns your parents have. It can be tremendously overwhelming, so prioritizing, getting input from doctors, and talking to both home care agencies and visiting facilities is a good way to start. These resources can provide a structure for your parents that allow them to maintain independence and dignity.
Do not forget to have fun and some sweetness by pampering them a little. Your parents may have been struggling with minimizing everything in their lives because of their limitations and will really appreciate having some of the burden lifted; by having a driver, a meal out, an information gatherer, or a kitchen assistant.
Pamper yourself; reconnect with old friends, enjoy some of the changes that Plattsburgh has made, and get some exercise. Many times when we believe our sole job is to care for someone else, we become resentful and stubbornly refuse to care for our own well-being. Offer your parents your best self.
Lastly, find a stream-lined way to communicate with your siblings. They will all most likely be calling and you end up repeating information, which caught at a bad time, could change the tone. E-mail and group texts are easiest and least emotional. Clarify with all of them, that they trust you and are not going to be overly critical or controlling.
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