Anne Jones’s tips on how to survive caring for an elderly parent while being strong in yourself as you care for a loved one.
My mother was given a maximum of six months to live so we brought her into our home to care for her last days. Three years later she was still with us! I share the insights and understanding that this time brought me and how you can keep your energy and spirits strong through what can be an intensely demanding and challenging time.
Many people are nervous to express their emotions or reluctant to engage with the emotions of others. The elderly come from generations that were taught not to embarrass other people with their own feelings and are therefore often ashamed to share their innermost feelings. Fortunately, we now live in more enlightened times, and you can take advantage of the hours you spend by the side of your loved one and discuss feelings and take the opportunity to help them heal any old hurts, rejections or traumas. By encouraging them to share old painful memories you can lead them to let go pain and resentment. With your own lack of judgement and by casting a loving perspective on their experiences many emotional imprints can finally be healed. You can even help them avoid bringing back unfinished business into their next life cycle!
Fear of Dying
Throughout her life my mother wasn’t particularly emotional apart from expressing her love to me, her only child, and my father. She rarely lost her cool and when times were hard she was stoic, as many of her generation were; she rarely complained about her physical situation despite years of osteoarthritis. In her end years she had cancer, lung disease and heart problems as well as severe arthritis in her legs which she continued to endure patiently. However, the one thing that troubled her was her fear of losing her independence and ability to care for herself and when probed she admitted an underlying fear of death itself.
Unfortunately, her life went on far longer than she would have wished, and she did become dependent on care and she suffered a lot. I often wondered what was keeping her alive, why didn’t she pass on to what we both believed would be a pain free and beautiful existence? She had faith, she believed in the afterlife and the continuous journey of the soul and she had many loved ones waiting for her. I thought it might be her stubborn nature which is akin to a strong will and determination; a strong fighting spirit. When I discussed this with her it was clear that apart from a fear of death which she couldn’t rationally explain, she didn’t want to leave me. We both became quite emotionally about that!
To help take a more positive approach to the future I brought her focus to the benefit of dying that I thought might appeal; to be reunited with her loved ones; her beloved mother who had passed on when she was just nineteen and who she adored, her brothers and my father who she had loved passionately. I spent weeks talking about them, going through photo albums and putting their pictures up in her room. We talked about her having a peaceful transition and a great welcome party when she arrived. As a result, she had a lot of dreams about her family and after a while her fears lessened, she relaxed, and she seemed to lose most of her anxiety. When she finally passed away she was unconscious, and she went very peacefully.
Talking about death can help to uncover any exceptional fears (we all have a natural resistance and fear of dying). I didn’t talk her out of her fear but allowed her to express her fears and to encouraged her to think of the positive aspects. It was also a great experience for me to spend time reflecting on the fun we had experienced as a family and learning more about older generations that I had never met.
Guilt and Regret
Talking about the past can bring up any unresolved issues and suppressed feelings that need healing. My mother had a lifelong regret that as a teenager she hadn’t been overly compassionate and caring of her father who had been immobilised with osteoarthritis, a condition she herself experienced later in life. Again we talked it through. After she had expressed her regrets and feelings of guilt I suggested she might like to follow a meditation to meet up with her father and I led her to a garden where she was reunited his spirit. She had a conversation with him in her mind and asked him for forgiveness. His response was loving and compassionate – he told her there was nothing to forgive for he had never stopped loving her and he understood and accepted her love even when she was a teenager. After that her demeanour changed and she was far more peaceful. Do everything you can to help release guilt as it’s the biggest emotional burden that a human can carry, and it can return life time after lifetime causing inner distress and pain.
Anger is another harmful emotion is better cleared and released. I asked my mother if there was anything from her past that still angered her and she became quite vitriolic about a past slight and upset with one of her brothers. I encouraged her to vent out everything she had bottled up over the years for the sake of the family peace. I suggested she let rip and she did! She enjoyed that! Afterwards we laughed at her language! She explained that although her brother had upset her it had never stopped her from loving him and it was a great relief to clear the anger at last. Another box ticked on the emotional clearing to do list! Anger is an emotion that needs to be expressed to release it, albeit safely and harmlessly. How wonderful to have an emotional detox – whatever age you are.
Empathy and Kindness
It’s easy to be affected by the anxieties and emotions of the person who you are caring for, but despite your compassion for their physical and emotional suffering try to be empathetic rather than sympathetic. A Samaritan’s counsellor I know told me that when people call in they are taught not to sympathise – if a person is at the bottom of a pit they need a rope to help them out not someone who is above them in a good place saying how sorry they feel for them. I personally find it mildly irritating when people continuously ask me, “Are you alright?” or the dreaded “I am worrying about you”. Although it may sound ungrateful I would like to respond: “please don’t worry because that will only make me feel worse because your anxious thoughts will not help and could lower my spirits even further!”
With empathy we see and feel when someone is unhappy or suffering so that we can step forward to give love and support. Your smallest actions can make a huge difference. A hug, a squeeze of the hand can have a huge impact on someone who is suffering. When we are in our darkest moments these small gestures of connection and care have extraordinary significance. I still remember every moment in the past when a stranger has helped me or a nurse has held my hand. Even if your patient doesn’t respond because of dementia, depression or fatigue know that your kind gestures make a difference!
Keep Yourself Clear
Dealing with other people’s emotions and problems can be extremely draining so make sure you put yourself in a protective shield before you start these conversations. In my first article of series one I share a variety of ways you can protect your energy field and I have an e-book Protect Yourself on www.smashwords.com that gives you plenty of options. The Egg is an easy procedure to follow and is particularly efficient for shielding you from other people’s emotions. Simply use our imagination to see a large egg in front of you. It has a very thick shell that will shield you from negative energies but will allow positive vibes to come through. See a door in the egg and open it and step inside and know you are protected. Repeat this through the day especially when you are tired or the circumstances particularly draining.
So, to summarise:
- Talk about death and help alleviate any fears of dying
- Encourage sharing and expressing any suppressed emotions
- Talk about the past and previous generations
- Fill the room with photos of family and friends both present and past
- Use the smallest acts of kindness to bring comfort and relieve anxiety
- Keep yourself protected at all times from the negativity created by fears and anxieties
Sending you love and strength and a sense of humour to get through these challenging times and remember to look for the love – there will be many opportunities to share it and receive it!
About the author: Anne Jones is an international author and key-note speaker. Her self-help books have been translated into 17 languages. With her down-to-earth style she helps her audiences and readers to find ways to cope with everyday problems and overcome the effects of trauma and loss. She gives practical advice on how to stay uplifted and energised as you face the challenges of life. See her website for further information.