As men of a certain age, especially if we are fathers, we are reminded that being a parent never stops. Sure, my son is 22 and a young adult, but I’m still a dad. I may take a step back, but I’ll always be a dad.
Yes, I’m at the age where grandchildren are in the realm of possibility. But what about the other end of the spectrum? What about those of us who have parents who are still living in their 90s, or possibly 100s?
For those of us that currently do or have gone through it, a role reversal is a fact of life. On the one hand, they’re our parents, the ones who raised us. On the other hand, their bodies and minds are failing now that they’re in their twilight years, and in different ways they are more childlike.
The physical changes are one thing. Their eyesight and hearing aren’t what they used to be, and we must become their eyes and ears. Advancing age also brings about the use of a cane, a walker, a wheelchair to stay mobile. Some of our parents can accept those limitations; others find it more difficult to do so. Incontinence can be an issue, as well as getting proper rest and what their systems can tolerate for meals.
Mental changes are tougher. Sure, their memories aren’t as good, so it’s important to find activities that will keep their minds engaged. Often times, our elderly parents can remember events from long past but have trouble with short-term memory. Throw dementia and Alzheimer’s into the mix, and the challenge is greater and harder as time goes on. Reminding a parent several times about an appointment over the course of a day can come with the territory. When a parent has dementia or Alzheimer’s, it’s hard not to take personality changes personally, but it’s the nature of the disease.
The time will come when hard choices need to be made, whether to allow our parents to stay in their home or place them in a nursing home or assisted living facility. They need us more than we need them, and for those we love it’s important for them to feel secure and loved. At the same time, as their sons and daughters, we find ways to allow them their dignity in this stage of their lives.
Being a caregiver to an elderly parent is a labor of love, but by no means is it easy. Self-care and a support system is crucial to prevent burnout. It also requires soul-searching, depending upon the relationship one has had with the parent/s. As LGBT/SGL men, there are those of us who have had positive relationships with them, and those who haven’t.
In the back of our minds, we may think that our parents will live forever, but sooner or later they will pass away, and the older they are the greater that reality is. Of course, only God knows when that time is, so let us all make sure we give them their flowers while they are here.