I can’t fix things for these people who ask. They know that. They just want to talk. But I do assure them that they aren’t bad people for having these negative feelings. I do suggest they consider a few things:
1. If they haven’t tried it, get some counseling. Talking out your past with a trained counselor can be helpful. It can get some people over the hump of resentment, and they are more able to have some kind of active role in caring for their elders.
2. I suggest Dr. Ira Byock’s book “The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book About Living.” Dr. Byock is a hospice physician. He has witnessed many deaths. And he has seen the healing that can happen when emotionally destroyed families find a way to forgive.
3. I suggest that if they cannot give hands-on care, they may be able to find peace for themselves by hiring a geriatric care manager to handle the day-to-day needs of the elders. These people know how to get the elders needs’ met. They know who to call. Geriatric care managers are expensive, but for some people (not only those who aren’t close to their loved one) they can be very useful. Unfortunately, not every area of the country has geriatric care managers, and also they are not uniformly regulated. However, AgingCare.com’s directory of Geriatric Care Managers is a good place to start. Please be careful with Geriatric Care Managers. I’ve noticed on-line “credentials” popping up – and I don’t mean real on-line distance learning. I mean the kind you can buy for a few bucks. This is going to be an area open for abuse until there is some true oversight. That time will come, but it’s not here yet. If you don’t have someone in your area that can be recommended by a site or an agency you know, then I’d make sure the person you select is licensed as a social worker, nurse or some elder related credentials. Always ask for references.
4. The other option for families where things are truly an emotional mess is to get a legal guardian appointed. Many areas have agencies that specialize in this. You should be able to find out where to look by calling your county adult services. If you find you need to hire an outsider to handle the nuts and bolts of caregiving, don’t beat yourself up. You have done what needs to be done to make you feel like a decent human being. Life is not always neat. You know that already. So, do what you need to do and then let it go.
5. There’s some chance that, during the process of lining up help, you may find a way to heal enough to forgive your elders and be with them, at least to some degree. Try to be aware that your parents were raised by imperfect parents. They often did all they knew how to do. That doesn’t make abuse right. It doesn’t make any of it okay. But, understanding that they are human beings with flawed pasts – they were likely abused as children, themselves – may help you reach their bedside while you still time to say goodbye.