Like many of you who may have grown up in a challenging family, I’m the product of a father who fought alcoholism and a mother who battled paranoid schizophrenia during my early days. And, to make matters worse, I was an only child. All my life, I’ve had to single-handedly deal with my parents.
Once married and having found fulfillment in my career, I firmly believed I had escaped my toxic upbringing for good. I thought that being an adult, I could handle anything.
I was wrong.
As my parents entered their old age, their toxicity only deepened. To my horror, I discovered that the issues I had hoped to avoid were back on my doorstep.
At a time when I expected complete freedom, I found a new prison closing in around me.
I call that first painful stage of the eldercare journey “Desperation and Victimhood”.
After all, what do you when already insufferable parents become even more un-cope-able? No matter if it was the “right” thing to do I frankly viewed becoming re-involved in their declining lives like it was a second “life sentence”.
Over time, I had to call on incredible inner strength to deal with one situation after another – The Stolen Garage Door Opener, The Failed Driving Test, The Missing Glasses Episode. And, that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Only now do I accept that the significant lessons learned during this period developed me as a human being. I’ve healed much of my past and arrived at peace regarding the passing of my Mom in 2010 and my Dad in 2012 – each at age 89.
On the other hand, looking back, I remain unconvinced that it was an “honor” to be up to my elbows in grime cleaning my father’s chosen living conditions before I insisted on taking matters into my own hands.
In fact, it took two to three years of intensive inner work to shift my outlook during the second stage I call “Adult Service and Compassion”.
If this scene in any way, shape or form resembles your circumstances, you have my full permission to feel resentment over having to deal with the “hoarders on steroids” nightmare. Let others walk a mile in your shoes before they judge, right?
Today, I feel proud of my diligence in supporting both parents. In so doing, I transformed into the true adult I am now – even more competent, newly confident and a resourceful problem-solver. It’s just that I want you to know I distinctly did not feel that way during my dark night of the soul. And, you don’t “have to”, either!
When I delivered my father’s eulogy in September 2012, it occurred to me that the death of a parent is an un-repeatable event. You have but one chance to conduct their passing with class.
I’ve since opened to the surprising hidden gifts embedded within the back- and spirit-breaking hardships.
For sure, I shall forever remember those moving last conversations with my Dad. They could bring tears to my eyes to this day.
It’s clear he was using stories shared during our Laundry Room Chats to impart an unforgettable legacy. Those conversations literally took place in the laundry room of the 1963 house in which I grew up. My Dad insisted on keeping the 1970’s wash machine that had to be baby-sat through its wash cycle. As we watched and I bailed water, he shared memories that defined the man who fathered me.
It’s why I term the ideal third phase of the eldercare marathon “Zero Regrets”.
Without a doubt, it was a process to shift from burden to grace. And, it was by no means an overnight timeline. There is no “instant success” when it comes to figuring out how to cope with Un-cope-able Parents. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
You’re Not Alone Anymore
Looking back, I can’t believe how much time I put in…
It’s no stretch to claim over 250,000 hours (24 hours a day X 365 days a year X at minimum 30 years) of experience finding ways to endure and survive two of the most Unbelievably-Difficult Parents on the planet.
Today, I see that every exasperating event of life has equipped me with the practical skills and tools to help YOU.
Without the untold difficulty, I would have never arrived at the insights which will serve those confronting such burdensome circumstances.
We know there are already millions of Baby Boomers around the world facing similar trials. Those numbers are projected to grow by the day for decades.
My mission NOW is to show you “shortcuts to survival” so you, too, can master the coping skills proven to work with even impossible elders.