Nine options to consider when watching parents get old
Dr. Ken Druck joined Good Morning San Diego to talk about his latest book “Courageous Aging: Your Best Years Ever Reimagined.”
Watching our parents grow older is an inescapably difficult part of life. How could we not feel the sharp pain of anticipatory sorrow when considering the fact that our mom or dad will someday die? How could we not search for ways to hide from, deny, avoid or soften the pain? Turning away may provide a temporarily refuge. But the stark reality of going on without them lingers. Since we don’t want these things to become the elephant in the room, here are nine options to consider:
1. Summon the courage and strength to embrace the cycle of life. We get to live. And we get to die. Losing a parent is the nature of life. Watching the mother and father who gave you life grow old and pass away is inescapably sad. But it is also inescapably glorious. Face into their aging and demise, we experience perhaps the dearest and most reverent kind of love and gratitude humanly possible.
2. Become a competent caregiver, hold, nurture, reassure, protect and love our parents with dignity and respect when they can no longer take care of themselves. They may have wiped our butts a thousand times as kids — and now it is our turn to wipe theirs.
3. Vent when necessary. Build a soundproof scream room in your basement. And use it. Few people can reduce us to a helpless 9-year old. But our parents possess that power.
Your body was not made to hold the kind of frustration, guilt and anger that our parents can elicit. Let it out in ways that don’t hurt you or the people you love (including your parents).
4. Honor and celebrate their lives while they’re here. Give the full measure of your love, compassion, forgiveness and affection to them, expecting nothing in turn. Wear the jewels, kisses and sacrifices they gave you with pride. Reassure them they did the best they could and help them find some measure of peace and enjoyment in each day.
5. Get to know them better. Tune into what’s going on in their world. Don’t project your own feelings, interpretations or assumptions onto them. Ask open-ended questions and then, listen. Find out what’s weighing most heavily on their hearts. What’s making their hearts sing. And what they’re most excited about.
6. Be there for them when they need you. Wait for them to ask you for advice before giving it. And if they have trouble asking for help, give them a few multiple-choice options to select from. If they stubbornly refuse help, it may be time for some tough love. Speak in a direct but caring, respectful tone of concern, not panic, and be patient in allowing them time to decide the best-suited options.
7. While it may be the most difficult thing you’ve ever done, help them die with dignity when it’s their time. Make it as safe and painless as possible for them to let go. And let go of them when the quality of their life is gone. When its what’s best for them, let them go.
8. Continue to love, honor and embody them/their spirit after they’re gone (for more about how to do this, please read the “Five Honorings” at www.kendruck.com).
9. Allow yourself time to grieve. As independent and self-reliant as we might be, as much as we’ve become their parent, we’re probably more dependent on/attached to our aging parents than we think. Get the love and support you need to bear the sorrow of their passing and missing them. Summon the courage, strength and faith to come to terms with their passing and go on with your own life.