My parents have been married almost 60 years. They have raised 3 children and loved and spoiled 9 grandchildren. People who know them would say they are “in love” and lived in each other’s pocket. The Golden years and particularly the last year have not been easy for my mom and dad. The challenges of health issues, Alzheimer’s and a very unsettling move from their family home of 50 years have thrown their world off its axis. I have learned and am continuing to process a very important lesson as I witness this time in my parent’s life. We are uncomfortable with grief.
As a caregiver and as a daughter I organically threw myself into coping with the basic tasks that could no longer be performed physically by my parents; making sure they were safe, eating, clean and medical needs monitored. The areas that get pushed aside while we safeguard our loved ones are the emotional needs, the profound sadness of a life changed forever.
My parents had a relationship dance, a set of roles that they lived by for their marriage. My mother the consummate 50’s housewife doted on my father. She cared for their home and kept his belly full. He in turn was the breadwinner, her protector and a gregarious charmer that provided a window to the world for my shy mother.
They flourished in these roles. They understood their purpose and their worth and value to each other. Last year my mother stopped cooking, doing laundry, cleaning their home. My father lost his drivers license. Their routine of 60 years was halted. My brothers and I decided with my parents that assisted living was the best option for them. The house was sold and a new miniature version of their home was created in their assisted living apartment. We all breathed a sigh of relief knowing they were safe. The more difficult hurdle was to help them make sense of their new life together.
My mother cries, often. I have started to measure her life in good days and bad days. It wasn’t until yesterday when I was driving with my friend David as I expressed with misty eyes how deeply I missed my father being able to be my confidant and hero in times of need did it truly resonate in me that my mothers crying wasn’t just a symptom of her Alzheimer’s but an expression of grief. My father has changed. The traits she grew to rely on are just a memory. I want to learn to be comfortable helping her express that sadness, frame it and hopefully focus on all they she can still be grateful for.
We are a culture incredibly adept at tasks but we struggle with the messy, heartfelt vulnerable sharing. Next time I walk in to one of her bad days instead of assuring her that she’s ok I will share a tea, hold her hand and have a good cry with her.
Christine Rudman is a social worker based in Toronto, with her brother Marty founded Wellstory.
The lessons we learned navigating the strained seniors resources for our parents was the impetus for starting WellStory. Assisting families by preparing for and managing the challenges of aging loved ones while extending their stay happily and safely in their own homes is our vision.
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