Two years ago I lost my mother-in-law to liver cancer. From diagnosis to her passing we had less than 8 weeks to prepare for her death. It has been a very trying two years as my husband and I have spent countless hours teaching my father-in-law to carry on without her. My in-laws had a very traditional marriage.She took care of everything in the home--laundry, cooking, bills, appointments, you name it, she did it. But her passing forced us all to change. My father-in-law had to learn to do what she had done for him for well over 65 years.
This past Easter my father-in-law fell at home and fractured his greater tuberosity-the bone at the top of your arm. The break was so severe that if I had done the same thing it would have required surgery. However, because my father-in-law takes Coumadin (often referred to as a blood thinner) and his age (90), complications from surgery far outweighed the time it will take to allow the bone to heal naturally on its own.
Let me tell you, this has taken us on a fast a furious ride. He was admitted to the hospital for a few nights before being transferred to a rehab facility late last week. The social worker we have been working with told us because of this injury and a history of two previous falls, he should not live alone. We now have to take the next step into moving him into an assisted living facility. And we are learning so much.
I must say we never quite prepare ourselves for this time. Not only do we find ourselves having to look for a place he can afford, but we have to pack up 90 years of his life and dwindle it down to the few things he will be able to take with him. It has been an emotional roller-coaster for all of us. My husband is an only child so all decisions must be made by him. In some ways that can be a blessing as we do not have to argue over what is best with his Dad. But in other ways, it can be a very stressful time as ALL decisions must be made by him alone, all while maintaining a full-time job.
The stress of caring for our parents can be insurmountable at times. Not only do we have to make decisions quickly and many times the choices we have are very limited. We have to act fast and yet, without knowing how quickly he is going to heal will determine where he will move on from here. As with every other stressful event in our lives, it is the unknown, the uncertainty that can make life tough.
Not only are we dealing with the physical stress of packing and moving him from a home he has lived in for almost six years now, but the emotional stress can be even more so. Having to surf through thousands of papers that my in-laws insisted keeping is draining to say the least. My in-laws kept every paper known to man going back as far as the 1940's.
We discovered so much as we began purging. We discovered baby books my mother-in-law kept from two babies she had lost shortly after birth-- one we knew of, but one who came as a great surprise. And to know that we will never know from her why she never told my husband is tough. We located my father-in-law's birth certificate with a different name than the one he goes by today. And of course coming across years and years of family photos can take a toll on any one.
We spend so much of our lives accumulating stuff that seems so important at the time, only to find ourselves having to dwindle our possession to what will fit in a 385 square foot room. I told my husband this has really caused me to re-think the 'stuff' in my own life. While we never expect or plan on our parents or another family member to get sick, turning to others who can help us out can lift a huge burden off our shoulders.
In the coming weeks, I hope to share with you some of my tips on how to maintain healthy habits while coping with the loss of a loved one or managing the care of an elderly parent. Until then I am back to packing and sifting through 65 years of memories my in-laws shared as a married couple.
Have you had to move a parent into assisted living? Do you have any lessons you can share with those of us who are just starting the process?
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