When Hurricane Sandy's threatening winds and rains began to pelt the Northeastern part of the country last week, my heart not only went out to the thousands living in the path of the storm, but I also made a special prayer that my elderly parents who have stubbornly held onto their independent lives would be ok. I have always seen my folks as capable people who were pillars of their community, successfully balancing the commitment of their careers while tending to the needs of their growing family. I, and most of my sibs, would eventually find ourselves scattered across the country living our own lives much in the same fashion as we were raised. All was well and good, until about 4 years ago, when my younger sister began to call and report that our parents had once again lost power to their home during the latest storm. Rather than wait out the bad weather in a toasty hotel, they were choosing to ‘tough it out' in their home, assuring all of us that they were fine as they bundle up in multiple sweaters and gloves.
Alarmed, we, the adult children, made multiple offers of care that ranged from purchasing a generator to full time housekeeping staff. All acts of kindness were acknowledged and then kindly and resolutely declined. "We are just fine", became the mantra of my aging parents. And we, the adult children, were left to wonder the perpetual question; were they really just fine?
Caring for aging parents at a distance can be a daunting and often guilt laden task. It would be so much easier, if I lived close by so that I could really check up and see how they are doing. However, I am a realist and after consulting with multiple experts in the field of aging that included friends who have lived both near and far from their own parents, I have culled several viable suggestions that I would like to share:
There is a Yiddish expression that when translated talks about the difficulties parents encounter raising children. I have yet to find the appropriate expression about the challenges of being an adult child raising parents, but I am sure it exists… Wishing you and all who you love safe and healthy journeys.
Esther B. Hess, Ph.D. is a developmental psychologist and executive director of a multidisciplinary treatment facility in West Los Angeles, Center for the Developing Mind. For more information and/or to contact Dr. Hess please visit the Center for the Developing Mind's web site at http://www.centerforthedevelopingmind.com/.