True Confessions: When I Lost Patience with My Aging Parents
In a prior post I acknowledged that in our role as family caregivers, we’ve all probably lost our patience with our aging parents or care recipients at some point. I also promised to share with you my own experience, so here goes.
I Never Lost My Patience (Part One of Two)
I was a long distance caregiver to my parents during the years my mom was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s easy to keep your patience when you live three thousand miles away and the caregiving consists mainly of supportive phone calls and a few short visits a year.
About two years after her diagnosis, when my parents moved to an assisted living facility in my town, my mom was at the start of the middle stage of this horrible disease. Through the excellent free resources of my local Alzheimer’s Association, I had educated myself via workshops and lots of reading about caregiving for dementia patients. I was also attending a support group for adult children of Alzheimer’s patients on a regular basis which provided more insight and other people to share experiences with.
The knowledge I gained from the time my mom was diagnosed until the time she and my dad moved here armed me with an understanding and deep compassion for people struck by any memory-impairing disease. And while I saw my parents multiple times a week once they lived nearby, I do not remember a single time when I lost patience and blew up at either one or them, face-to-face or by phone. (I just checked with my husband and he couldn’t think of any incidences like that either.)
So How Did I Keep from Losing It?
OK, this was probably a wimpy way out (or at best, passive-aggressive behavior), but I would rely completely on my husband to interact with my parents for me when I needed some space as a caregiver. As their only child, I was their sole source of emotional support, and I thought it could be extremely hurtful if I was nasty, mean or rude to them. I truly didn’t want to hurt them in any way at this stage in their lives.
I did two things that stopped me from losing patience with my parents:
1. I vented to my husband . . . a lot! I would whine and complain whenever I felt the caregiving issues and duties were overwhelming me. As an only child, one comment I often made was, “This is just too much for one person to handle!” (Of course, there are pros and cons about being a caregiver and an only child, but that’s another post.)
I must also point out, my parents were always very independent and considerate! They never expressed a desire to live with my family and only did so for a few weeks when they were moving. I always had our own home as my sanctuary to retreat to. I don’t know how I would have managed had we all lived under the same roof — which makes me sympathize even more with family caregivers who do accomplish this incredible feat with aplomb!
2. I would have my husband “run interference” for me when I was reaching my caregiving breaking point. Jeff is an absolutely extraordinary man, and I have to publicly thank him again for being such a vital part of my caregiving “village.” There were times my father would call and I just couldn’t bear to deal with whatever question or problem they had. Jeff would return the call and handle everything for me when I just couldn’t do it myself.
One particular incident really stands out in my mind. I had just arrived at Disneyland to meet a group of friends (we’re locals and had an annual pass at the time) and spend the evening dancing to a favorite band playing there. (As I’ve written here before, dance is one of my major ways to relieve stress!) My pager beeped and I saw it was my parents’ phone number. I immediately called Jeff at home and he willingly returned my Dad’s phone call, explained I was gone for the evening, and helped them in my absence. Thankfully, I didn’t have to turn around and leave the Happiest Place on Earth as soon as I had arrived. I know how lucky I am to have had such a reliable and caring backup person on my caregiving team.
Do you have a family member, friend or neighbor you can ask to be your back up for those times you just need to have some time away from caregiving? And don’t feel guilty arranging for this assistance!
I Never Lost my Patience . . . Yeah, Right (Part Two of Two)
Ironically, I would lose my patience on the telephone multiple times with my parents years before I ever became their family caregiver!
I moved out to California in my mid-20’s and we’d talk on the phone about once a week to catch up. I would find myself very upset or angry with my parents by the end of many conversations. I remember wishing they would just leave me alone and stop telling me what to do!
These negative emotions, along with some other issues, led me to get counseling for a few months to gain a better understanding of myself. My therapist taught me a very important life lesson which I know helped me become a more patient caregiver when I took on that role.
The lesson was for me to change my perception of what they said.
It was to recognize that the words my parents were actually saying, which I perceived as criticism or telling me how to run my life, were only one surface layer. What I needed to learn and embrace 100% was the understanding that beneath whatever “negative” words I was hearing, what my parents were really saying to me was, “We love you!”
They cared about and loved me deeply. They weren’t criticizing me; they were suggesting ways I could make my life even better. It was all in my perception of the intent behind their words, not what their words were! It was the unspoken message they were sending that I needed to focus on.
Once I learned this important lesson, it made all the difference in the world when communicating with them in a patient and loving manner, both long distance and while up close and personal. And I think this basic understanding also kept me from losing patience with them when I later shouldered the responsibility and stress of caregiving.
True Confessions are now officially over. 🙂
In a future post, we’ll talk about practical ways we can smooth things over when we do blow our cool with our Golden Oldies.