Many of my clients are near my age, the mid-fifties. Many of us are dealing with ailing and dying parents, just as our own bodies are showing signs of mortality. Here are several issues that arise:
- The balance of self-care and care of the increasingly needy parent
- The lack of control over the parent's decline
- The lack of control over one's time when emergencies occur
- The loss, quickly, or by slow degrees, of one's nurturing, supportive, and or independent parent and the subsequent grief
- The grief, mingled with relief, at the death of a parent
- The awareness of our generation as "the next in line" for decrepitude and death
Here are some rules that I've made for myself and have suggested for my clients:
- Make sure you have support to get through this time, people you can talk to about dealing with your parent
- Figure out your limits and do your best to stick to them. That may include limited other areas of your life, like hours of work or volunteer time during critical periods. If I've just spent the night in the emergency room with my parent, I will cancel my clients the next day. If my parent wants something that's not critical, and I need time for self-care, work, or my "logical family" (as opposed to biological family), I say "no" or "not now".
- Know that you will never meet all the needs of your parent. Practice self-forgiveness. You can't save your parent from aging and from ultimate death. Make sure that all ages of you know that. Get help if you forget it.
- Some people get involved with the care-giving tasks and forget the relationship. Try to spend some time "being" rather than "doing". Hang out, chat, play a game, eat a meal, gossip, whine about your life, "only connect".
- My family talks easily about death, estate issues, and what comes after. It's important for you that your parent have a will and that you know what his or her wishes are for the stuff, the body, the funeral, and the after-life, if any. Otherwise, during the time of most grief, you will have too many decisions to make with no direction from the most important person.
- My anxious clients sometimes become phobic about their own health, when their parents are ailing or dying or dead. I often ask them to imagine their deaths and do EMDR processing about their fears. Often, the terror goes away, and they begin to notice that they're still alive and present.
- I've done the same about the decline of my clients' bodies. "Think about the process of getting older and what it will be like. What is the scariest thing about it? Where do you feel that fear? Let's process it." It works.
These are developmental issues, not pathological ones. I'm constantly normalizing peoples' fear, grief, and overwhelm, when dealing with these issues.