Pushing Aging Parents Too Much?

“Caregivers Don’t Always See the Spirit Diminishing,” NY Times Science Section this past Tuesday (9/6/11) resonated. Do we force/cajole/implore/push our aging parents to do what we’d like them to do or doctors persuade us to do to maintain a diminishing quality of life…ignoring the possibility that they’re weary of coping and depleted of energy?

And if they comply, after they’re gone, do we revisit the uncomfortable feeling that we might have subjected them to unwanted pain or stretched-to-the-limit endurance, because of a natural desire to hold onto or “help” them? Isn’t this the exact opposite of the peaceful exit from life we wish for those we love?

The NY Times piece highlights something I think we often ignore.  My take: allowing “failing” aging parents to live out the end of their life as they wish–not as we–or their doctors– may wish. I’ve referred to this winding down, getting tired of the having-to-“perform” process and the need to respect it in previous posts. Easier said, than done.

On a personal level, I think about the last time I (a far-away-living daughter) visited Dad, who died the next month of kidney failure. Every 4-6 weeks when I flew out to see him I took care of the necessities while doing everything possible to enrich his life. This was another attempt.

His mobility had been good. Never even used a cane. But recently he’d gotten a walker to help with the fatigue he was feeling. I wanted–so badly–to give him a change of scenery, get him out of the house and take him to a favorite restaurant, although he said he “didn’t feel like it.” We’d go to the Chart House with my favorite cousin, his favorite niece. He loved their clam chowder, he loved the view, and he loved being with his niece. Why was he reluctant? “Giving in,” he reminded me where he wanted to sit, saying I should explain he was 941/2 to better insure sitting where he wanted.

Once seated Dad enjoyed the clam chowder, but his appetite had lessened; he ordered nothing more. When the hostess brought him a complimentary slice of mud pie, “in honor of being 94 1/2” she said, he shared it with us–ate a little. Thinking back, he made an enormous effort to go to dinner that night to please me.  He was winding down, the time had come when he preferred staying home, sitting in his chair watching/listening to TV while reading and dozing–a book in his hand.

And I think about Mother–at almost 89, mentally alert but frail, weak and winding down from health issues. After almost dying, Dad and I decided on an additional surgery for her. A compliant woman, she agreed. While the procedure brought good short-term results, she hated the aftermath in the hospital. Too many painful “pokes” with needles and enduring other medical stuff. Was it worth living 2 additional months? (If successful the surgery could give a month, a year, more.)

I guess it’s easy to ignore the signs of this last stage when we’ve been trying so hard and so long to help parents age as well as possible. But, then, we don’t want to live with regrets.  Thus, today’s post.

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