In my book, Final Years Stories of Parent Care, Loss and Lives Changed I tell eleven stories, including my own, of those adult children caring for their aging, ailing, and dying parents. I was struck by how little we as a society talk about our feelings and experiences during this difficult time of losing our parents, or our grief process after they are gone. That is what motivated me to write Final Years. Although my cousin’s partial story below is not in my book, it shows the depth of struggle and loss of control with some of the decisions we and our parents must make … the ones we all go through as we come to grips with the process of watching our parents die, and with ourselves as new motherless and fatherless daughters and sons.
I received the following email from my cousin, Karen, on February 26, 2013 after her mother, my Aunt Helen, went on hospice care at home:
“Dawn, I am worried that mom can survive a long time without food, just drinking water. I know I can’t control it, but I don’t want that for her. I can’t conceive of withdrawing hydration, though. I keep thinking there must be a lesson in this. Then I think there isn’t, except to be here for her. A friend told me today it is a sacred time with Mom. It’s what we all hope we can do for our loved ones. I know that, but I just don’t want her to have to go on and on like this.”
Even though it may be a sacred time, watching our parent waste away or in pain is agonizing for many. It was for me.
I received this next email response from Karen on April 8, 2013 after I checked in to see how she was doing since her mother’s passing in March:
“This weekend was hard. On Friday it was one month since Mom died. I just miss her. I had no idea until I got home how much my days revolved around her, her schedule, how she felt, even though we were four hours apart. I called her—we talked at least three to four times every day. I structured my day around when she was home, when she was gone for an appointment. If I was going anywhere at a time we might usually talk, I let her know in advance. It’s really taken me by surprise, how often I want to tell her something, how often I want to talk to her. Tom and I went to her Princeton home the weekend before last. It was very hard driving there and going into the house, knowing Mom wasn’t there. It makes me sad to think about the house being gone at some point, though we have no reason to keep it.”
Hospice care, our days revolving around our loved parent, adapting to a life without them, going through their home and possessions and then finally selling their home. It’s all part of it. How did you do with it? Are you going through this anguish now with your own parent? Know that you are not alone.