Family Members Can Support Each Other though the Stages of Life
Family members must support each other through all the stages of life. We would all like to spend our senior years healthy and fit, but it doesn’t happen for all of us. Those who are now aging used to care for those who were once young and have now grown up. The young need to return the favor when older family members can no longer care for themselves without help. If families recognize this as part of God’s plan, both young and old will benefit.
If you are young or even middle age, it is hard for you to really understand what someone nearing the end of life feels, especially if that someone used to take care of you. You may feel that caring for an older relative is a burden. But that older relative is feeling confused about how to handle her diminishing capabilities. He or she may need help as badly as that lost dog or cat you might want to rescue.
Your elders are used to being independent and in control of life. Do you know how it makes them feel not to drive anymore and to be dependent on others to come and go? To be losing their ability to see or hear as well as they did? To know their minds aren’t as sharp as they were? To maybe not be able to walk or control bodily functions? To hurt all the time? Role reversal is as hard on them as on you. Family members need to support each other as much as they can. Your children are likely to follow your example when it’s time for them to care for you.
Whether you are feeling some of the harder aspects of aging, or caring for someone who is, this site will try to help you deal with the real problems of those approaching the end of life. My goal is to help family members support each other.
My Father’s Example
The person you see in this photo is the first person I ever met who was nearing the end of his life. He was my Cousin John, the father of my father’s mother’s first cousin. He lived with his daughter, Cousin Edna, who never married. My family visited Cousin Edna every Sunday afternoon for as long as I remember. Usually Cousin John wasn’t well enough to come out, and stayed in his room or the sun room at the back of the house when we were there. This photo was taken on Christmas Day, when he joined us.
We made these visits because my father had learned from his mother the importance of family taking care family and how family members can support each other. My father had sisters who lived closer to his own aging parents in Oklahoma than he did, and his siblings helped their parents through their last years. I only saw my dad’s parents twice — once when we visited them, and once when they came to see my brother after he was born. They died within a week of each other shortly after they had fulfilled their desire to see the grandson who would carry on the family name.
My dad sometimes flew back to see his parents, but his mother had asked him to be a “son” to Cousin Edna and see that she was taken care of when necessary. It was Cousin Edna who was more like a grandmother to me than any of my other grandparents, all of whom died when I was quite young. You will be hearing much more about Cousin Edna in future posts.
My dad taught me by example that older and younger family members can support each other. When I was young, Cousin Edna, who was about sixty, made Sundays special for us. Being with her instilled in me the importance of extended family – kinsfolk – as my dad’s side of the family would say. Cousin Edna always kept me provided with special presents, a variety of experiences I would not have had otherwise, and the very best books for children, since she was a teacher and wanted to encourage me to read. She often read to me, as did my parents. In return, I gave her the pleasure of having a special child to devote herself to and treat like a grandchild when she had no children of her own. Everyone has a need to love and be loved.
Cousin Edna lived with her old college roommate, whom we called Auntie Lucile. Auntie Lucile was a science teacher in the school across the street from the house where they lived. She sometimes took me to her classroom and showed me special shells and other interesting things having to do with science. She was also my personal photographer and took most of the photos I have of myself as a child. During Sunday visits, Auntie Lucile would photograph our family, first in black and white, which she developed herself in her darkroom, and later in color when the technology became available. If I was moving, Cousin Edna would get out her movie camera (ordinary people did not have video cameras back then, or computers.) Our entertainment on holiday or birthdays often was watching these movies. I remember my husband getting my full movie history during the time we were engaged.
We spent every Christmas with Edna, and Lucile for as long as she lived, except for one when I was an adult and the only family member who did not have the flu that year. The two ladies really knew how to make Christmas special, and they loved playing Santa Claus. It was Cousin Edna who surprised me on my fourth Christmas with an amazing dollhouse.
Cousin Edna invested wisely and was financially independent. She helped us financially as long as she lived and after she died. She helped us buy our first home by making a second mortgage unnecessary. She gave generous cash gifts for Christmas and birthdays when we were old enough to spend them wisely. When she died, she left me enough to buy a car with automatic transmission when I needed one. I’m quite sure that she also helped Mom and Dad when they had needs, but she liked to keep what she did for each of us confidential.
I only mention this because she really did treat Dad like the son she never had and me and my brother, who was born when I was ten, as her grandchildren. We were all happy to be together and make life better for each other. When I was growing up, it was mostly our nuclear family that seemed to benefit most, but when Lucile preceded Edna in death by several years, having our visits helped Edna through the loneliness. When Edna was in the hospital, she had family visiting who cared and helped her get back on her feet when she got home.
She was fiercely independent, especially in financial affairs, but when she finally realized she needed to move to a smaller place, it was my parents who helped her get packed and get settled in a condominium with security gates. When she was sick, it was my parents who brought her meals and saw that she could get to the doctor when she finally had to stop driving.
My dad did a lot of the legwork for her near the end of her life. She finally had to move into an assisted living facility, but I’m sure the bright spots in her life then were the continuing Sunday visits from Mom and Dad. By that time my husband and I had moved out of the area and were only around on holidays, but on those days the whole family still visited.
This is the example my father left me. My own turn came when Dad died. I moved in with Mom for a few days after her hip surgery until she could be independent again. My brother lived closer and continued to visit her on Sundays after we left the area. After a major family crisis, I finally persuaded Mom to move closer to me (by this time she was over 200 miles away) so that I would be more able to come whenever she needed me. I was able to help her through her last years as her primary caregiver until she needed 24-hour care after entering the Hospice program for the last two months of her life. During those months I was there part of every day, I had to handle her bills and banking, run the errands, and arrange for any additional help she needed.
During an earlier crisis after a 21-day hospital stay I needed to move in with her for two months. I also spent many hours a day at the hospital with her because they kept her strapped in bed whenever I wasn’t there. That’s because she wanted to get up and go to the bathroom by herself and they did not want to be liable.
Now I have passed seventy myself. I’m encountering some of the challenges I did not face ten years ago. My husband has even more challenges. In future posts I will be sharing what I’ve learned about facing the challenges of aging from Edna, from my parents, from others I know who are over 80, and from my own experience.
We don’t have any younger family members living near us at this last stage of life, so we have only each other around as family. We depend on each other a lot and support and encourage each other as best we can. Since we have no children, we trust God to provide any help we need as we come to the end of life’s journey. My church acts as family to elderly members who are alone, and that just may be God’s provision for us.