Three years ago, my father and I rode horses together for miles and miles of trails at a Florida state park. Two weeks after that, the world shut down and two years later, he died. His dying was my first very close-up experience with serious illness and death.
If we’re lucky, we learn something from our parents about how to face the end of life. Maybe they talk to us about how they want to spend their last days, what they most fear, how they feel about us, and what they believe about an afterlife. But for my dad and me, it didn’t go down like that.
We tend to think of doctors and nurses as the people who were working hard to make good grades while the rest of us were skipping class. I am pretty sure my brilliant, doctor friend Heather was walking around with a stethoscope at age four while I was still sticking Play-Doh up my nose.
This romantic affection for hospitals is not entirely misplaced. There are zillions of people who need life-saving surgery and who live longer because a hospital was able to treat them effectively. ERs in public hospitals handle an onslaught of some of society’s toughest cases; drug addiction, mental illness, and homelessness.
But, you don’t want to start your caregiver journey in a hospital.
Most of us take for granted that we can get out of bed in the morning and do all the things necessary to head out and face our day. You know… the simple everyday things like moving around our house, showering, getting dressed and eating breakfast. I might be a little foggy most mornings but I don’t think about whether I’ll face an enormous challenge in measuring out the coffee or pouring the milk. The point is the routine is just that…routine.
But if your parent is frail, you know that there’s nothing routine about these activities — that for them, doing even the simplest things just can’t be taken for granted anymore.
The mobility and functioning that’s essential to independence and safety suddenly becomes a big effort. And, Daughterhood really happens when we have to get involved in helping our parents do the things that they can no longer do by themselves. This is when their lives and ours get hard.
You’ve navigated your frail parent’s hospital stay and now it’s time to go home. You probably can’t wait to leave but …what’s coming next is extremely uncertain. Leaving a hospital with a frail older adult in tow is like stepping off a cliff blindfolded.
This blog is all about resources and tips to help you with this transition but first there are two things to know that will help you understand my advice.
It always comes as a shock to me that being likeable doesn’t solve all my problems. In my mind, being accommodating is the key to being likable. Of course, the problem with this thinking is that occasionally all that pent up accommodation and desire to be likeable comes boiling to the surface and I become enraged and irrational.
I’ve found that I can sometimes avoid this cycle by being less accommodating and clearer right up front about what I need and what I expect. But, it’s not easy.
There is no better place to avoid the likeability trap than when your parent is hospitalized. You have to be firm and relatively non-accommodating so you can head off the white-hot fury that ends up making you look like a looney and reduces your effectiveness.