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Taking care of aging parents in the here and now

Dear Annie: I have never written to an advice columnist but feel the need to share my experience of having been the caregiver for my parents. It was so hard for me emotionally to visit as they slowly lost their memory and physical abilities. I frequently broke into tears when I left.

About two years before their passing, I had a conversation with a former nurse of the nursing home. We got to talking about people in the nursing home. She said, “When you bring your parents to us, we have no memories of them. We are here to care for them — food, bathing, a roof over their heads and general well-being — as best as we can. We then start to grow to love them for who they are today.”

As I was driving home that night, it struck me: They are not my parents anymore. So, I tucked my memories of them in a back corner of my mind. I then thought, “What do they need at this point in their lives?”

My father, who was not much of a talker, especially since he had hearing issues, needed his cigarettes, a bit of conversation and watered-down whiskey. My mother needed conversation and chocolates. I would go up after work every other night with this agenda in mind.

I miss my parents, but I do not miss the toll it took on me for the last two and a half years of their lives. I also took the guilt I felt after their passing and turned it around into feelings of joy that they do not have to endure that part of their lives anymore.

It is wonderful that my memories of my parents come back in very unique ways, such as a smell or a phrase. Other times memories simply pop into my head. It brings a smile and maybe even a chuckle.

I am writing this for the caregivers out there. I have shared this story with my friends who are going through this with their parents. After I tell them about my experience, they say, “Wow, this sheds new light on how to think about my parents and what is needed for them.”

This may not work for everyone, but if it helps one person, then great! — A Former Caregiver

Dear Former Caregiver: Thank you for sharing your beautiful and well-narrated story about your parents. It sounds like they were wonderful people and, fittingly, that they raised a thoughtful and caring child.

Dear Annie: I read your response to Suds to My Elbows about everyone doing their share of cleanup during holiday celebrations, and I feel the exact opposite. I’d rather do the cleanup myself. My husband helps, but that is all the help I need.

I want to clear my own table, dishes and serving bowls. I fill the dishwasher and organize the other dirty dishes to be done later. My husband takes care of the leftovers. That takes care of that!

I am very picky, and I know where everything goes, while others do not. I have a small kitchen, and there is no room for another person.

I get annoyed when people insist they help. When I say, “No, thank you,” I mean, “NO, thank you!” I just want them to sit back and enjoy themselves. — I’d Rather Do It Myself

Dear I’d Rather Do It Myself: Wanting to do the cleanup yourself, or just with your husband, is understandable and, presumably, nice for the guests. Just make sure you are gracious while declining people’s offer to help; it is their act of gratitude for your having hosted or served them a meal.

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“Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie” is out now! Annie Lane’s debut book – featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette – is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to dearannie@creators.com.

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