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January 26, 2009
When Mom Wants to Break Up Your Relationship


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When the Inevitable Moving Day Comes for Mom and Dad


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Running Ragged in Caregiving Runaround


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Getting a Handle on Your Own Stress


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Posted: January 26, 2004

Practical Caregiving

Tugging at Marital Strings in the Face of Illness

Life doesn't always present us with the perfect situation. What caregiver will argue with that? But when someone is growing older and lonely, but is still married to someone who, because of advancing illness, has become a "child" again, decisions are made that push at the edge of what seems to be proper. As often as not, the decision can involve another woman or another man.

My father felt the way Janice's father feels, but my father didn't have a chance to carry it further. A family caregiver must look past their own feelings and try to see the full picture.

Here's Janice's story, from my electronic mailbag. Also, be sure to read Julie's story about having to face up to the issues of being a caregiver. It's below, too:

Dear Jean:

Mom and Dad have been married 52 years. They have had a wonderful relationship, and Dad has always been true to Mom. Mom developed dementia several years ago and now is like a little child who can't do anything for herself. They moved in with us a couple years ago, and now I even have to feed her and change her diapers! That is not the problem, though.

Dad is seeing someone else! He still lives here with Mom. I don't understand how he can do that while Mom is still alive. He doesn't bring his "friend" home or anything like that, but he is still dating another woman! What can I do to make him think about what he is doing? Janice , Texas .

Hi Janice:

I'm glad you are there to take care of your mother. Your father probably couldn't do it alone at this stage in his life.

Your Dad is seeing someone else because in all likelihood, he is lonely. That's not hard to understand, but it can be hard to accept. Your mother has not been an adult, or even a wife, for quite some time, and he needs the companionship of an adult. I'm sure he still loves your mother, but she is a "child" now instead of the woman he was actively married to for so many years. She is someone he helps take care of instead of someone he can discuss things with and go places with.

I doubt your father is doing anything that would hurt your mother. Even if she found out about it, she wouldn't realize that her husband was seeing another woman. She doesn't even remember that he is her husband.

You can be thankful that he hasn't started living with the woman he is seeing while your mother is alive. Others have, in his situation. But don't be surprised if they move in together after your mother dies. A lot of retired people are living together without being married because of their financial situation. If they marry, their income and benefits are reduced considerably. It's a sad situation but it has become a necessary situation for many elderly people.

Try your best to understand things from your father's shoes and be patient with him while focusing both of you on the care for your mother.

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Dear Jean:

My mother has been in the hospital and is close to dying. Dad isn't doing very well, and my sisters and I are preparing to talk with them about their future. I really have a lot of anxiety about beginning to take their life in a new direction with us as their caregivers. They are both very stubborn, and I fear how our gesture will be perceived. We are presenting a united front. Do you have any suggestions on how to approach them? Julie , Florida .

Hi Julie:

Part of your anxiety is most likely your own feelings about your parents dying. They are your parents, always have been your parents and always will be your parents, even after they're gone. But now you need to start thinking about being their parent. It's a very hard thing to do, but you don't have any choice.

You need to face things head on with your mother. Tell her you love her but that all of you (including your father) will be OK when she dies, even though everyone will miss her very much. Most people need to hear that, and it will help all of you to face her impending death.

Talk to her about her beliefs of what happens after death, then give her the encouragement she needs to face the future with those beliefs. Even if you don't feel the same way she does, don't fight with her about what happens after death. If you think she needs to change her ideas, just offer suggestions and possibilities but let her believe what she believes.

Also talk to your Dad about your Mother dying. Let him know that you will always be there for him and that you love him very much. I'm sure your Dad is depressed about your mother being close to death. In fact, his own current health problems might be related to this depression. It's not uncommon. They have built a life together and her dying means that life together is ending. He might feel his own life is ending even though it obviously isn't.

Don't rush into trying to be his caregiver. He might not need his children to be his caregiver for many years yet, but of course you must be constantly attuned to changes in his needs, and you and your sisters should develop your own care plan for him now, before the actual need occurs. Good luck.

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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Please send me your questions, comments and issues regarding the practical side of caregiving at ASKJEAN@caregivershome.com, and remember to take advantage of our professionals and experts in the Ask an Expert section of our website. You'll find it in the left column on our homepage.

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