Each weekend I look forward to reading The Australian Newspaper’s insert, The Weekend Australian Magazine, I especially like Nikki Gemmell and Phillip Adams. I find both columnists inspiring and challenging.
In the June 02-03 edition there was an interesting article by Kate Legge, called “I want my Father to Die – Caring for ageing parents – the baby boomer’s burden.” In fact it featured on the front cover, no doubt to attract attention. Did you read it? If not here is a brief outline: Several women who were caring for one or both elderly parents said how difficult it is juggling their busy lives as well as doing their duty to their parents. Many were resentful, others felt it a responsibility and one found it ‘no burden at all’, however most found it stressful. An ABS, 2007 survey was quoted which said “women caring for frail or aged parents experience twice the strain of working mothers caring for a child under four.”
I can certainly identify with those women who are finding it stressful. When my mother died suddenly I took over the care of my father who two years previously had suffered a severe stroke, leaving him aphasic (unable to speak) and hemiplegic (paralysed on the right side). At this stage he was mobile, able to shower and dress with a little help. I voluntarily took on his care, moving him into my home, some 4000kms away, as not only did I believe it my duty but also because I loved him and really wanted to care for him. As well as his physical care, I also attended to his financial affairs and social life. It felt a bit like living two lives, his and mine. I am an only child and although my husband was emotionally supportive, all care was my responsibility. As he deteriorated and developed more ailments his care became more physically and emotionally demanding, I was sleep deprived, socially deprived and my whole life revolved around his care, as I tried to juggle my home, husband, children, grandchildren and friends. Yes I felt the stress of the constant care his condition needed even though he was a most appreciative and considerate patient. And yes, I admit sometimes I thought it would be a blessing for both of us if he died in his sleep. I developed chest pain, rapid heart rate and breathlessness and a diagnosis of angina was suggested and further tests organised. When I told my daughter and friend of my possible diagnosis they both said, “This can’t go on, something has to give.” Something did as that very evening my dad accidentally fell and fractured both his femur (thigh bone) and the socket where the thigh bone fits into the pelvis. He was admitted to hospital and after a week all my symptoms of angina disappeared. Even though I visited the hospital daily, Dad’s physical care was being taken care of by others and I had time to rest and recover. The following two years Dad spent in a nursing home became stressful for both him and me. I visited him regularly not only to comfort him but also to give and supervise his nursing care. After a painful deterioration he finally died.
My mother’s sudden and unexpected death seven years earlier had not only been heart wrenching, but I also felt cheated out of caring for her, as this was always my plan. But compared to the slow death my dad experienced, it was easier to cope with in the long run.
It has been five years since my Dad died and the memory of his suffering is still acute. I’m now starting to think about what will happen to me if my health deteriorates. I’m still very active and am doing all the right things to keep that way, but then so did my parents. My daughter assures me she will take care of me, no doubt for the same reasons I took care of my Dad. But I don’t want her to experience the stress all carers of elderly parents feel, or to feel resentful, guilty and overpowered by the care of her mother. Then again I don’t wish to cheat her out of what she said she wants to do. What a dilemma! A balance is needed. I feel relieving my children of my constant care (if I ever need it) is a better legacy than any money they will inherit.
So now is the time for me to make some decisions about how I am to be cared for if and when I become frail and feeble. This is a challenge as I don’t know what the future holds for both my husband and me, but what I do know is I don’t want my quality of life to interfere with the quality of life of my children.
So I have some hard thinking to do as I approach another stage of my life.
Both Joan and I would be interested to know your thoughts both about the stress of caring for an elderly parent/s and the prospect of needing care yourself.
Until next time, Maureen