Guarding our Parents' Dignity

Amy Bellis

Guarding our Parents' Dignity

Amy Bellis
DSC_0618(Editor's Note: We welcome Amy to our blogging team today. You can connect with Amy on her profile page: @jijabcomcast-net.)

Snowmageddon dumped about two feet of snow here over the weekend.  While I don't consider myself a full-time caregiver at the moment, I do have my parents, aged 78 and 88, living nearby. In the past, regardless of how many times I asked, yelled and threatened, my dad (88) inevitably went out to clean snow off his car.  This time, he did not.  I think he is noticing his increasing frailty -- and frankly, it's very sad.

Here is a man who worked as an electrical engineer until the age of 84. Can you imagine? In his younger days he blasted our back yard out of solid granite. He built the second story of our house. He shoveled us out of Connecticut blizzards time after time. Even last winter he sneaked out after the storm and cleared his car.

When we arrived to shovel he was standing in his garage, decked out in the furry-ear-flapped hat my son gave him for Christmas, leather gloves and boots and proudly yielding his brand new snow shovel. I instinctively called for him to "not take one more step" for fear of him falling.

Then my husband noticed the sadness in his eyes. He desperately wanted to help. He kept offering to clean the snow off his car, to move the car into the street. We kept telling him no because it was icy, and the snow was very heavy. My husband quietly said to me, "You know in my head I'm annoyed that I have to shovel again. Then I look at how sad he is and realize how hard this is for HIM." We tried to find ways to include him, but he is a smart man. We can't shelter him from the truth.

As our parents age we naturally began to switch roles with them, where we begin to be the caregivers and they become more childlike.  Recognizing how sad this makes them and how frightened they may be is an important part of honoring them as our parents. Honoring all the times they sacrificed for us and realizing that THEY are the one whose body is failing.

We can't halt the clock or stop the aging process. We can however, take a deep breath before we take over, and try to find ways to make our parents feel valuable. In our case, we have included my dad in the decision making process of laying out our future home on farmland.  This keeps his mind busy, gives him something to research and think about and makes him aware of the fact that we still need him as much as he needs us.

What can you do today to honor your loved one in whatever their current state of wellness is? Can she teach you to knit? Can he tell you about President Kennedy?

Dignity matters until the final breath.