By Carole Norris Greene
We baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1965, are in trouble. In increasing numbers, we are attempting to care for an aging parent in our homes, but far too many of us and our parents have not prepared for this financially, physically or emotionally.
I am writing about this now because this currently is the situation for seven families in my inner circle.
Statistics show that some 53 million U.S. baby boomers expect to be caring for parents who are in their 70s and 80s. Statistics also point to the likelihood that baby boomers – get this – will spend more time caring for a parent than for their own children!
I believe parishes can help both aging parents and their adult children who are caregivers in meaningful ways.
First, consider the needs.
Physically, we and our parents have health issues: trouble lifting, breathing, staying fit in general.
Two of my friends, sisters in their 50s and 60s, thought they could handle care for their mother but discovered that even the eldest daughter, retired with a part-time job, couldn’t cope with the demands of running between their mother’s home and her own. Stress triggered the onset of adult diabetes, I was told. She was hospitalized. Fortunately, the younger sister was able to take a one-year leave of absence from her job to help.
Financially, many baby boomers and their parents simply cannot afford today’s high-priced nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. Spiraling school tuitions, costs of home maintenance, health and child care have taken a toll on family finances.
Besides, many parents dread any form of institutionalization. Moving in with an adult child is preferable. But a dilemma surfaces: Adult children have no clear line of authority. The adult child has to discern when to take a stand and when to do as asked – one minute in charge, the next dutiful and submissive.
Such ambivalence can be disheartening. No wonder some adult children are fighting depression as well as anger at siblings and anyone else who isn’t throwing them a lifeline.
Consider, too, what the aging parent is feeling: apologetic for being dependent in an age that worships youth, alone for far too many hours in a day, grief-stricken over the losses of a lifetime.
What can parishes do?
1. Form support groups for caregivers and parents. Call in experts who can advise caregivers on what is happening to their parent and the appropriate way to respond.
2. Invite families caring for an elderly relative in the home to gather. Inquire about areas where help would be welcomed. Caregivers I’ve spoken to say they could use help with:
– Arranging health care personnel to assist the parent with a regular bath
– Meal preparations
– Sitting with a parent when the son/daughter needs to be out of the house
– Light housework, even walking a pet
– Social invitations that include their mom or dad.
3. Visit area nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to see firsthand what life is like there, what they cost and offer.
My friend who took a year off from work to help her mother could not do the same for her godmother. She helped her godmother apply for admission to an assisted-living facility. There, the godmother discovered new friendships and many activities she actually looks forward to.
4. Gear more sermons to the elderly, their caregivers and attitudes toward the later years of life.
Whatever we adult children do for our aging parents, we will be making memories!
Good memories will be a type of Peanuts’ blanket to sustain all when the inevitable partings come.