September 22, 2019

Caring for an Aging Parent

Photo by Pexels.

The telephone rings and I immediately feel the frustration and sadness on the other end — a daughter or son whose life has been turned upside down by the parent who once took care of them and now can no longer take care of themselves. Their stories are accompanied by tears, exasperation and a vast array of emotions. 

They need someone on the other end to listen to their story and offer any intelligent insight as to their next steps. Raise your hand if you’re one of the 60-somethings reading this who has one or more living parent who’s 80-plus-years-old.  

I am not a geriatric care manager or a social worker. I have spent the past 15 years as a senior living advocate, providing a compassionate ear and expertise to the Los Angeles assisted living world. It is complicated; most callers need an objective source that will take the time to listen to the problem and point them in the right direction. The vast majority are sons and daughters of the elderly.

These adult children struggle with a duality of their feelings — their love for their parents, their sense of obligation, their difficulty in coping with their own needs, with their families and jobs, and their fears about their future. 

My conversation with Alan, who has lived in Israel since his early teens, comes to mind. His mother, a Holocaust survivor living in Las Vegas, was in failing health after her husband died. She was living in a board-and-care home for the elderly in Las Vegas.  There were issues with her care. There were no family members in the area.

“The memory of my parents inviting an elderly individual who had no family to our dinner table remains with me to this day.”

Alan flew to her side and, within 48 hours I helped him find an appropriate facility for her needs in Los Angeles, where she would be near a stepson. Alan arranged for her transportation to L.A. Alan said his mother was unable to care for him as an infant. He moved from foster home to foster home. He was 62 years old and never had lived with his mother. He tearfully said he still felt the need to make sure she was safe and has proper care.  

Even if your parents were not June and Ward Cleaver, most children want to do the right thing for their parents. We are all reminded of the fifth of the Ten Commandments, “Honor your father and mother.” Rabbi Michael Schwab aptly stated, “Our obligation in regard to parents was considered by the Torah to be extremely important. The logic seems to be that they helped give us life, so we owe them whatever we can give.”

Lillian B. Rubin, author of “60 on Up: The Truth About Aging in the Twenty-First Century,” said, “Parents commonly resist their children’s attempts to intervene, but they are often in denial about the depth of their decline and can’t or won’t see what’s plain to others: They need help.”

On the other hand, children don’t want to admit that a parent is declining and needs help. They may resist accepting that familial roles are starting to reverse and that they need to step in, either helping a parent themselves or lining up support.

Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman said, “Judaism offers a perspective on relationships between adult children and their parent that can provide us with compassionate, pragmatic moral guidance. Our tradition urges respectful, attentive care but also recognizes and supports what adult children can do.” It is fully appropriate to find assistance, whether in-home or a senior living community, which enables the child to work and take care of his or her own family needs. This can be seen as a mode of personal service, of demonstrating honor and respect.”

A career in journalism and public relations in the cruise industry didn’t prepare me for this work. I adored my grandmother and we remained extremely close until she died. The memory of my parents inviting an elderly individual who had no family to our dinner table remains with me to this day.

When my kids were entering high school and I found myself seeking a new career, I decided to follow my passion. Although I am blessed with an active and vibrant 88-year-old mother, when the time comes, I will need the advice I give in this article. There are no words to describe the personal satisfaction I get on a daily basis knowing I have had some part in bringing some solace and peace to adult children and their elderly parents.

Sandra Heller, a senior living advocate and placement specialist, is the owner
of Compassionate Senior Solutions in Los Angeles.