Pushing Aging Parents to do More Than They Can or Want to Do

“Caregivers Don’t Always See the Spirit Diminishing,” a piece in the NY Times Science Section resonated. Do we force/cajole/implore/push our aging parents–more than we should–to do what we’d like them to do to maintain their 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-capacity endurance, because of a natural desire to hold onto 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: allowing “failing” aging parents to live out the end of their life as they wish–not as we may fervently wish. I’ve referred to this winding down, getting tired of the having-to-“perform” process in previous posts.

On a personal level, it’s perhaps easier said than done. I think about the next-to-the-last time I visited Dad. I wanted Dad (who I decided needed to get out, breathe some fresh air, have some low-key stimulation) to go out to dinner, although he said “he didn’t feel like it.” We’d go to the Chart House with my favorite cousin, his favorite niece (in her early 80’s). He loved the clam chowder, he loved the view, and he loved being with his niece. Why was he reluctant?

In “giving in” he reminded me he wanted to sit at a certain table and I should tell them he was 94 1/2 to be more certain of sitting at this table which was a short walk from the door.  A strong, proud man, because of fatigue (no doubt caused by his age and failing kidneys), Dad had just begun using a walker when he went out. Didn’t like it much and didn’t want to use it if unnecessary.

No doubt like many far-away-living children, every time I visited I did all I could to empower Dad and to enrich his life. This was another attempt. Once seated Dad enjoyed the clam chowder, but his appetite had lessened and 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 and ate some.

In retrospect it was an effort he made to please.  He was winding down. The time had come when he preferred being in his home, sitting in his blue recliner in the den, watching/listening to TV while reading and dozing with a Louis Lamour book in his hand.

He died less than three weeks later. In retrospect, I don’t regret our going out to dinner. The fact that I think he went just to please me brings tears to my eyes–even now, many years later. That was Dad. Perhaps he was more considerate of me than I, unknowingly, was of him.

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