Parents show graying baby boomers how to grow old
By Diane Schlindwein
Copley News Service
While growing up, most baby boomers relied on their mothers and fathers to teach them some important life lessons. Now that 13 million boomers nationwide are primary caregivers for their aging parents they are still learning - about what and what not to do in their own golden years.
A survey conducted by Campbell-Ewald Health showed that about 56 percent of boomers provide assistance to their elders at least once a week, while about half that number gives some kind of care every day. Additionally, about 25 percent of baby boomers live with an aging parent.
Still, it's not easy to talk about. In fact, each of the people who tell their stories here asked for their names to be made confidential.
One of those people is a 59-year-old single woman from Indiana who shared her home with her elderly mother for several years. "I took care of her for a long time, but then it became too difficult," she says. Her mother, a 90-year-old widow, went to adult day care every day while she went to work.
"She always made me promise I'd never put her in a nursing home, but eventually I had to. I felt so guilty, but I was still working and she was up all hours of the night," she says. "I think she has finally accepted she has to stay there."
Sometimes seniors delay taking important basic legal actions - such as preparing a will or appointing a power of attorney. A 52-year-old professional from Iowa says she and her siblings are concerned about their parents' outlook on growing older.
"They own homes and several businesses and don't even have a will," she says. "We are truly worried about all this, especially now that our parents are beginning to have some health problems. It's important that aging parents should share information with their adult children."
Another boomer, who lives in South Dakota, travels to Illinois to see her 86-year-old widowed mother a few times a year. One of those visits usually lasts several weeks.
"I'm able to do that because I am no longer working outside the home, my children are grown and my husband is very supportive," says the 53-year-old woman. She adds that several of her siblings live in their hometown, but are employed full-time.
One of her sisters handles their mother's medical and legal matters, has a large family still living at home and works long hours. "I know when my family members are feeling stressed," she says. "I can hear it in their voices.
"The ones who live there take care of Mom all year long - cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, taking her to appointments and to church - so I like to take my turn," she says. "More and more I'm learning to spend as much time as I can with Mom. I've learned to appreciate her when I'm there, and I think it makes her feel better, too.
"Every time I go back I have to learn the patterns of her day and figure out what she does differently now. Older people keep different hours, too. Our mom sleeps best from about 3 a.m. to 11 a.m. That's hard on middle-age people because we're not used to getting up in the middle of the night. We haven't done that since our children were babies."
However, staying up late at night gives Turner a unique chance to visit with her mother. "She likes to share our family history," she says. "You get to hear stories. If you sit there with her longer, she naturally spends more time talking. That is nice."
Sometimes, boomers say their parents have helped them learn how to face their final journey. The South Dakota boomer regrets that although she tried, she wasn't able to get home in time when her 81-year-old father took a sudden turn for the worse and passed away. However, she has heard from her siblings that their father had an important lesson to teach about dying with dignity.
A stoic man who seldom showed emotions, he simply went to bed without complaining and quietly communicated as long as he could. She says her younger sister knelt alone with him by his bedside just before he slipped into a coma. His last words to her - "Love you, too" - were those he rarely said in life but apparently needed to share at the end.
"I'm sad that I didn't get to say goodbye to Dad. I don't remember what I said to him the last time we spoke. But I am happy that Mom and my siblings were able to be there," she concludes. "And I know his last words will stay with my little sister for the rest of her life."
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