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Elderly parents- how do you cope with the inevitable?

(74 Posts)
gilbertysullivan Tue 08-Jul-14 21:12:32

Not really what I'm asking but just sharing.
My parents are late 80s- 88 and 87. Still living in their own home, relatively active but have noticed a big change over the last year in my mum. She used to be out doing 6 mile walks with the WI but now gets very tired doing not a lot and often 'feels funny'. Both have regular dr check ups etc so nothing left undiagnosed as far as we know.

I live 5 hrs away and see them when I can. My DCs have left home but I still work . I am trying to visit more often though it's quite a hike and because of the distance have to stay at least 2 nights usually.

My brother who is single lives near to them -he works full time.

To get to the point, every time I turn the car round to drive home, I wonder if it's going to be the last time I see them and I know they think the same as they look a bit tearful.

I know that one day I am going to pick up the phone and it will be bad news. They are quite realistic about all of this- their wills have recently been updated and they talk very frankly about what to do with the house etc when they die ( potential development) so it's not an elephant in the room.

But today they were talking to my brother saying they are both at 'death's door' and could go any day.

How do you cope with this if you have elderly parents who you don't see as much as you'd like?

ajandjjmum Tue 08-Jul-14 21:15:57

Tough one - and so many of us are in a similar position, although in my case, I just have my DM.

The fact you have both DP is wonderful, as they'll keep an eye on each other.

The knowledge that my DF was not in the best of health gave me the impetus to do everything I could, while I could. But I know from DH's parents living miles away, it's not always easy. Regular phone calls, sending little treats that they might like, postcards etc. - just stuff to let them know you're thinking of them.

None of us ever really learn to cope, but hope you still have chance to make some happy memories with them. smile

Halsall Tue 08-Jul-14 21:22:03

My phone's about to conk out, but didn't want to read & run.....*OP*, I'm in almost exactly the same situation and it's really hard and upsetting. I ring my dps every single day and travel to see them at every single opportunity (I'm not as far away as you, but I am hours from them).

Just be in contact, do whatever you can, and don't forget to try and utilise their local sources of support, eg helpful neighbours.

There's no pretending it's easy, though sad. You have my sympathies.

evelynj Tue 08-Jul-14 21:27:34

Echo about local services-there's loads you can check for on the web. I work for an older peoples charity in NI & we do a good morning service-ring people up to 5 days a week & check on them & chat & take them out for groceries etc

Just calling & sending little things in the post is a great idea-whatever can keep their spirits up-also it's easier I find to write lovely things & they can reread them. It is hard when you live far away but you can only do your best x

gilbertysullivan Tue 08-Jul-14 21:33:04

To make it worse, I moved away post uni for my first job, and have lived away for almost 40 years. For many years my Mum kept asking if my DH could get a job near them...she was very keen to have me closer. It was never possible really and TBH it didn't seem fair because DHs parents ( now dead) lived at the other end of the country to them. BUT I know she always held onto some hope that we'd move closer.

It's complicated more by the fact they don't really get on as a couple, so when I do visit it's all a bit tense and part of me doesn't want to be there at all IYSWIM!

They have very good neighbours and friends ( though they are all dying) but I suppose I do feel guilty that I moved away- my mum comes from the kind of background where daughters moved into the next street to their parents, and many of her friends have family really close at hand.


ajandjjmum Tue 08-Jul-14 22:10:24

Times have changed gilbert - don't feel guilty.

This week DM has one friend in hospital dying of cancer, and another admitted yesterday with a stroke. I sort of feel that there's nothing I can say to make it easier - and when I witter on about how lucky she is that she's still got all her marbles, and reasonable health, she gives me this look that says 'I'm 88 - I'm not going to last forever'. sad

MissingYouToo Wed 09-Jul-14 00:11:39

All you can do is do your best - it will never seem enough, but its all you can give.

Visit when you can, phone every day, keep in touch with your brother and try to mobilise some local support services if appropriate.

Guilt will get you nowhere - so leave it behind.

GenuinelyMaryMacguire Wed 09-Jul-14 12:03:58

I don't know.

I was able to see my mum almost every day until she died. She said, about my dad 'You will make him a cup of tea, won't you, when this is over?' I told her honestly that it was all in hand, that I would see him and my brother would take him into the countryside where he could be happy, and that we'd find him jobs to do so he could feel useful.
So now I see my dad every evening, for an hour and half. I eat his home-made cake when I should be dieting. Sometimes its a pain, when I could be doing something else. Then I remember her request and I think 'There isn't much I can do for you now, Mum, but I can do this.'
I'm blessed, I think. My daughter also lives close by.

I don't know what you can do. Skype? I don't have the technology but you probably do. Phone them. Write letters - they'll love that. Every contact is 'one in the bank' for them as it reminds them you care and for you, for afterwards, so you don't feel you could have done more.

peacoat Thu 10-Jul-14 01:59:21

I agree with pp.

Skype, letters, cards, random interesting things from the newspaper.

Visits when you can. Let them know you love them and appreciate them.

And let them go when it's time.

gilbertysullivan Thu 10-Jul-14 08:47:22

My parents can barely work their mobile phones let alone Skype! They don't have Broadband or a computer- not many almost-90 yr olds do.

I've offered to set this up for them and buy them a simple iPad but they aren't interested and I don't think they have the capability now to use IT.

I would love- just love- to be able to pop round for an hour 2-3 times a week, whereas I go for 48 hours every 2-3 months and each time I do the 5 hr drive I find it a strain, due to a health problem I have.

Anyway- thanks for the thoughts.

pointythings Thu 10-Jul-14 09:48:53

I'm in the same boat - I live here in the UK, as does my Dsis, my parents are back home in Holland. My father has Parkinsons and severe dementia, and at the end of this summer he will be going into full time nursing care as my mum cannot have him at home any more. Realistically there is nothing my Dsis and I could do that would make things better - they are getting excellent support from local services, on a level that the NHS couldn't hope to offer even if they were to be eligible if they moved here - which they would not be.

So we call as often as we can, and one of us visits every 6 weeks. My mum is working through the grieving process because in very real terms she will be losing my dad when he moves out. He is already barely there any more and she knows it.

But on a positive note, she is already talking about travelling to the UK and coming to stay with me and DSis and seeing the DDs - she's 74 and in good health physically and mentally, so she does still have life ahead. Meanwhile we work through the tough times as best we can. I think you are doing the same, OP. There isn't more than that.

CMOTDibbler Thu 10-Jul-14 10:02:41

My parents aren't as old as yours - 72 and 79 - but much frailer. Mum has dementia, diabetes, severe back and joint problems, and Dad has diabetes, neuropathy, forms blood clots everywhere, a rare auto immune disease and heart problems.
I live 80 miles away, have an 8 year old and work FT <sigh>

But it is amazing how much you can do from a distance - I speak to dad every day (mum speaks very little now, and doesn't manage on the phone). I shop online for him - he loves Amazon, and its amazing what you can get there for next day delivery - and do the car tax, new fridge/hoover or whatever. Anything he can't manage.
Of course we argue over them needing more help, and I wish sometimes I was there to do more, but thats not the situation and my mum lived 3 hours from her parents so a norm for our family.

But when the phone rings in the night, I always wonder if its going to be 'the' call sad, but for now the paramedics, GP and the hospital keep them going

GenuinelyMaryMacguire Thu 10-Jul-14 10:48:25

My parents can barely work their mobile phones let alone Skype! They don't have Broadband or a computer- not many almost-90 yr olds do

Well, then, why not visit more often? If you can't provide them with a computer and show them what to click, don't come crying to me because you can't see them.

You made all the choices - you moved away and never came back. Now you want to be reassured that its ok to leave your elderly to die without your support. Yes, its ok. Nobody can stop you and a whole lot of people are doing just the same thing. Not me, but that's because my life has taken a different path, not because of moral superiority on my side.

But I'll tell you this - if I was five hours away from my elderly parents, I'd make sure they knew how to use all the current forms of contact, and if I could afford it I'd sign them up to a 'watch' service for daily contact and emergencies.

But you sit around being sarcastic to me, that will make you feel better. Enjoy.

Jubelteen Thu 10-Jul-14 11:03:13

MaryMaguire I don't think OP was being sarcastic. My DM alao finds technology impossible.

I'm in a similar position, I have to visit and stay for several days once a month due to distance. Work took me away from my home town, and actually we're all allowed an independent life away from our parents.

DM is now terminally ill and I'm making plans to move back for the last weeks. It's the best I can do and I don't feel guilty that on the meantime she will have to rely on carers. Just do what you can OP.

IrianofWay Thu 10-Jul-14 12:12:45

Oh dear, I am in a similar position sad But I am the one who stayed nearby. But it's still 20 miles and I work full-time and have three children. So far they have been active, but increasing health concerns are making this more and more difficult. We went to see them on Sunday and dad was nearly in tears looking at their huge and lovely garden, knowing that they cannot really deal with it anymore. Thing is H and I have seen this coming for years and in the past have gently suggested that perhaps they might consider moving to a smaller place (nearer us hopefully) but they always laughed it off and said they were fine. My mum is the one who fights the hardest against the idea but I don't think she really understands how hard dad is finding it now. Her health is suffering badly now too and she is in a lot of pain at times.

So... while we are fortunate (I haven't always always felt fortunate !!) to be nearish, I am still struggling with it. My heart aches when I think of the inevitable.

holeinmyheart Thu 10-Jul-14 12:14:54

We are in this terrible situation and are getting ready to sell up and move nearer the oldies. Meanwhile we make the long journey every couple of weeks. They struggle with Technology being in their 90 's. Although I know people approaching 90 who do Skype. But our oldies don't. Your eye sight, hearing and mobilty are affected in extreme old age and they can't manage any small fiddly mobile phones. We have fixed them up with lifelines but then they don't wear them. However, what this experience has taught us is that we need to plan for our old age, before it gets to a stage when someone is going to plan for us. They have done no planning whatsoever. They just sit waiting to go from one crisis to another. I think we are saints really.

AbbieHoffmansAfro Thu 10-Jul-14 12:20:08

One thing-don't let the references to death upset you too much (unless it is meant to make you feel guilty, which is a different issue).

If my elderly relatives are anything to go by, death talk becomes common. My grandmother died in her 90s and talked about her impending death in a calm, matter-of-fact way very often in her last years. She had accustomed to the idea and was not afraid of it. By the end, she very much welcomed it. In some ways, it is comforting to see this natural recognition of the inevitable.

It is bloody hard for you though, of course. My father is failing and the pain is unbearable, except of course it has to be borne. Lay the guilt aside and just live in the moment, is all I can say. I'm sorry.

mumblechum1 Thu 10-Jul-14 12:21:17

Another one here. Parents live 5 (7 on a bad day) drive away and mum has terminal cancer. I was going up every 10 days when she was first diagnosed as she was overdosed on morphine which made her seem worse than she was, now I go every 4 or 5 weeks. (got back last night).

I just try to give them a nice time when I'm there, sometimes I take mum to a nice hotel for a couple of days to give dad a break, as she has moderate Alzheimers so he's always on duty.

Other times I take them both out to a stately home garden and for afternoon tea, that kind of stuff. Mum is now very frail and weak but still enjoys sitting out overlooking Coniston lake with a nice bit of cake smile.

I'm very conscious that every time could be the last time I see her but just try to make sure that the little time we have together is nice, even if it is listening to the same story of what happened in 1953 for the thousandth time!

mumblechum1 Thu 10-Jul-14 12:21:36

5/7 hours drive

gilbertysullivan Thu 10-Jul-14 13:50:29

I find your post spiteful and unhelpful.
I was NOT being sarcastic.

It's 2 weeks since I was at my parents. I had a long conversation with them about having a Broadband and an ipad etc. THEY DO NOT WANT THIS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. If they did I would set it up and buy the bloody iPad or laptop for them.

They have each had minor strokes and although they are okay-ish they are not able to use technology - so please stop making me feel that this is my fault in some way!!!

I have a job- 2 in fact- 2DCs who live away but who often come home at weekends, a DH whose mother died not long ago so he needs support.

I see my parents as much as I can. My brother lives 5 minutes away from them. They do not need 'support services'- they are in reasonable health for their age, have good neighbours and masses of friends.

The decision to live away was mine initially yes. I couldn't find work where they lived, so rather than be unemployed I got on the proverbial bike and moved to where I could get a job. Then after a few years I got married- at 30- and my DH's work is in the part of the UK where we live now.

I don't know why I need justify this to someone like you who is just being pretty horrible.

JeanSeberg Thu 10-Jul-14 14:02:48

But today they were talking to my brother saying they are both at 'death's door' and could go any day

Aww, that brought back happy memories. My mum used to tell us every Christmas for the last ten years of her life that this would be her last one. smile

Lots of happy memories after that until she passed away.

thanks For everyone coping with the difficult situation of ageing parents.

QuintessentiallyQS Thu 10-Jul-14 14:04:57

I did not see anything wrong in GenuinelyMaryMacguire's first post to you, before you snapped.

We all make different choices, she made hers, you made yours, and I made mine.

My dad did not learn to use a computer until after he had his stroke aged 74 (rather massive, he is semi paralyzed and wheelchair bound), and now aged 86 he has asked that we teach him to use skype, so that will be the project this summer. He knows his short term memory is really poor, but I plan to make a step by step guide for him, like with everything else new he wants to learn on the pc/internet.

The inevitable is very soon now for my mum. She has levy body dementia and lives in a care home. We were prepared for the illness to take its course, it could be years! She is on the Norwegian equivalent of "the pathway", so only palliative going forward as they have stopped all alzheimer related medication, and all extra vitamins, muscle stimulants, anti depressants, anti psychotics, etc. She is 78. Two weeks ago she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer of her cervix, the tumor is 20 cm diameter, has spread to her intestines and her stomach. We are told she has weeks, possibly months to live, and for sure 6 months is too optimistic.

I have made the choice to NOT take ds2 early out of school to go see her.

1. It makes no difference to her - she does not know she is dying
2. I rather let my kids have early summer in Britain, be carefree in relatively good weather for a few weeks before going up there
3. My dad has my sister and niece up there with him now

We all do what is best for our families. Not just one or two people, we look at the full picture and decide what is best.

We cant really look back and say "I should have done it differently", because it was the right decision at the time, and nobody knows what the future holds. We need to stop beating ourselves up, and think "We did the best we could in the circumstances". It is normal to worry.

mumblechum1 Thu 10-Jul-14 14:07:50

Gilberty you don't have to justify yourself to anyone. I personally don't know one person who lives anywhere near their parents, so seeing them a few times a year is absolutely the norm.

I've also suggested getting broadband etc but they've never even typed much less used a mouse or anything so it would be a waste of time.

Best we can all do is frequent phone calls, visits when we can and to let them know that we will drop everything if they need us.

I'm going on holiday for 3 weeks in August and already fretting about whether they will need me to fly back in that time.

gilbertysullivan Thu 10-Jul-14 14:12:22

Am very sorry to hear about your mum, Quint.

I snapped because I have tried on many occasions to persuade my mum to have a laptop. I do a lot of online shopping ( not food) for them as well as researching things they want to buy so it creates a short list when they go out to buy. I order their Xmas food for them so they don't need to worry about finding a turkey!

My dad is a Luddite. He HATES computers- even the word!-because he retired before they were used so much and he has nothing but criticism for them- the minute there are any problems with businesses and it's blamed on a computer, this justifies his thinking!!!

I have tried to persuade them to have one and enrolled my brother to discuss with them too- no joy.

I get 'prank' calls often from my dad's mobile because he can't remember how to lock the keypad and hasn't got the dexterity to use all the small buttons. He has been shown a million times what to do to lock the keypad and forgets.

So I'm sorry- to say I was being sarcastic really wound me up.

JeanSeberg Thu 10-Jul-14 14:19:55

You can throw even more stones at me if you like Mary. I had the nerve to move away from my birth town after school AND (several years later) put my mum in a residential home when she developed dementia.

I'd make sure they knew how to use all the current forms of contact

Would love to have watched you to try to explain to my mum how to use a phone, never mind Skype/laptop/iPad.

I'd sign them up to a 'watch' service for daily contact and emergencies

Yeah, because there's just so many examples of this type of service around isn't there?

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