Countless times families are surprised, if not horrified, by what they find when the truth comes out about how mom and dad are living. The resounding message heard is that mom or dad seemed fine during chats with them on the phone or the occasional interaction. However, it turns out to be a very different story when the truth finally bubbles to the surface and the kids take a hard look. Often this is precipitated by a hospitalization, health crisis, or a visit over the holidays. In this case, for Laura and John, it was frequent hospitalizations and that gnawing feeling in the back of their mind that they had pushed off for over a year.
It is common for unintended stretches of time to occur between visits from adult children with their parents. Living far apart, demanding work schedules, juggling child-rearing and other responsibilities often lead to phone calls becoming the main form of communication. While serving to check up on parents, these conversations can be very deceptive. By far, the most common relationship witnessed is between well-meaning pre-occupied children often kept in the dark and unaware of the decline in their elderly parents' condition. Often, the children's ignorance of their parents' problems can be credited to parents who are quite skilled at concealing problems that they and/or their spouses may be experiencing. Avoiding unwanted attention and fear of sounding alarms that help or change is needed further prompts the parental cover-up.
So what was the cover up hiding. Mom is 81 and now addicted to pain killers. She has almost constant urinary tract infections. She needs some level of help when transferring to the toilet or shower and many other activities. She has fallen asleep on and fallen off the toilet, probably due to the heavy does of medications she is continually sneaking. She is morbidly obese with multiple medical issues and not taking any of her other necessary medications on the prescribed schedule. She is showing diminished problem solving. And when on heavy opioids, she is still driving! She is falsely and outrageously accusing her husband of having an affair.
Her husband is 80 years old, has a bad back, and uses a walker. He has been caring for her on multiple levels (activities of daily living, safety, emotionally etc) for the last several years. In prepping for the first family conference, the children were hoping, but doubtful, that he would be willing to take a break and leave for a week to get some respite. During the meeting he said, “I am ready to go right now! I can’t do this for another moment!” Later, it was found out he is ready to move out, because things have gotten so bad. The marriage in appearances, is over. The opioid use, the physical assistance, the increased demanding behavior, his loss of engagement in meaningful activities, and the increased burden of care over the past two years have broken him down to the point of despair. A very proud, committed, level headed, kind, reasoned man, who has been a great father and husband, driven past anger, sadness, and caring to the point of apathy and survival! And never once did either of them ask for help.
The kids have met multiple times together with each other to plan for the meeting(s) with their parents in order to have the highest chance of success to bring about change. During the meetings they LISTENED, reinforced their caring, and sought insight into what both parents really wanted. They presented options and solutions for moving things in the right direction based off of both parents needs. They were firm when it was required and collaborative throughout. This was in spite of very demanding and unfocused behavior from their mother who is not capable at this point of making sound decisions about her well being or her husbands.
This is an ongoing blog…The initial uncomfortable meetings and discussion have happened and a plan has been made…stay tuned…