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Aging and the Effects on Family

By Reverend Louie Lyon

As a pastor of numerous congregations through the years and as a son and son-in-law I have faced aging issues numerous times through the years. The real question is “How prepared are we really to deal with changes as our parents or grandparents grow older and need additional care or supervision?  How ready will we be for the change in roles we have to face, such as the changing role in now being the caregiver or overseer of the one that used to care for us?”

I have learned that it is easier to give direction to others than it is to one’s own family member(s). When one is personally involved you feel the tension and fear associated with “a change that will affect one’s lifestyle and relationship.”  You might also be more afraid of how that person who is affected by the change will react.

In 1974 we brought my mother-in-law Olive Kinsey from England to live with us. She lived with us in several different locations (UM Pastors move around) through the years. While serving in Henderson, NV I came home one afternoon from church to eat lunch. I heard Olive asking for help. She was on the floor and couldn’t get up. After a hospital stay and surgery for a blood clot in her leg she returned home. Even though I knew better we still never had a discussion about advance directives and what her wishes were. A few weeks later she was readmitted to the hospital after a stroke. In the middle of the night we were asked to make a decision on a pacemaker so she could make it through the night. Discussing with my wife on the way to the hospital what we should do we both agreed that if it would not give her quality of life we should not have the pacemaker implanted. That’s what we told the doctor. He said that we had made the right decision and began to walk away. He didn’t get ten feet before my wife said, “But that’s my mother, I don’t know what she wants, put the pacemaker in.”  Don’t get into that situation!  Discuss with your loved ones their wishes before it is too late.

Added stress comes upon a family when a decision needs to be made on whether a family member can continue to live by themselves or have in-house help or move to an assisted living facility. Discussions should be held long before the need arises so that it will not feel like it is something that is being forced upon someone. It’s important to understand that the real issue is “A loss of independence.”  Put yourself in their place so you could begin to understand where they might be coming from when the discussions begin to take place. My parents were in their early nineties and my sister and I knew they could no longer stay in their home alone any longer. We discussed with them the options: live-in help, a private care home or assisted living. They agreed on live-in help. That worked for awhile and then we realized that it was not working as well as we had hoped. At this point my sister and I made the decision, against my father’s will (he had dementia), that a private care home was needed. Doing what is best at times can be a hard decision to make.

In many families parents live in one state and their children live “back home.”  As parents age and medical concerns come up the children often say, “It’s time to come home so we can be there for you.”  I have found through the years if it is something that the older family member wants it usually works out. But if it is being forced upon the parent and the family is really too busy to be there for the one(s) that moved “back home” then there is much sadness. I have found that many times the best intentions of a child for their parents do not turn out the way they had thought it would. It should be understood that you and your children (grandchildren) have your own lives. You need to ask yourselves, “How much time do I really have to offer before it really affects my life in a manner I am not ready to assume?”  You also need to realize that what you think might be best for your parents or grandparents might not be because of you taking them away from their support system or way of life.

My late wife and I learned this on the evening prior to my late mother-in-law’s passing when she said to us, “The last 14 ½ years of my life have been the worst years of my life. You made me leave my home and way of life to be with you to help you out.”  Wow!  What a shock that was. We invited Olive to come to live with us after she had cancer surgery and was alone in England without any family. We thought we were helping her and in Olive’s mind we had forced her to leave her support system and way of life. Before major changes take place in lifestyles it is very important to have open and heart-to-heart discussions with both sides listening to one another—communication is important.

Friends, my definition of the word LOVE is caring so much for the one you love that wanting to do for the other is what makes you happy. It should be in love that we make decisions for the ones we love. As one ages changes will take place. Please prepare yourself for those changes by having the needed discussions long before change needs to take place.

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