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Caring for Aging Parents: Your Emotions

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Guilt

Marriage Q & A's

Q: What can I do to help alleviate the financial responsibility that goes along with taking care of an aging parent?

A: One possibility is to talk to the human resources department where you work. Many companies are adding benefits that will help you with the monetary responsibilities of taking care of aging parents.

Guilt is one of the strongest emotions people feel as a parent becomes older and less able to care for him- or herself. There are many reasons that you might be feeling guilty. You might feel that you are not doing enough to help your parents. This might be true, or you might be doing more than a reasonable amount and feel guilty anyway. You might feel that if you had done something different years ago, then your parent would not be so ill now. For instance, you might think that if you had taken your mother's complaint about feeling weak and tired more seriously, her cancer would have been diagnosed earlier and she would have been cured.

If one of your parents is very sick and needs a lot of expensive care and a lot of your energy, you might be secretly wishing that he or she would die so that it would be over. This thought would probably cause you to feel incredibly guilty. It's very common to feel this, and it's a completely normal reaction. It doesn't mean that you don't love your sick parent and it doesn't mean you are a terrible child. It means that it's very difficult and possibly very expensive to care for an ill person—realities that can prompt all kinds of unexpected thoughts and feelings. The best way to deal with these feelings is to acknowledge them but still do as much as you can to care for your parents.

A Sense of Loss

When your parent is no longer functioning at 100 percent, that is a big loss. It's normal to feel sad, and it's actually a mature feeling. Feeling sad when your parents are ill and unable to take care of themselves means that you have accepted the situation and the loss that occurs when your parent's health declines. You shouldn't hold back tears. Crying is part of feeling sad and it's okay to express your emotions. That doesn't mean that you should spend years moping around and crying as your parents become more and more ill. But sadness comes with loss, and you should give yourself permission to feel it.

Mortality

Parents are the buffer between you and your mortality. Most people are able to ignore the inevitability of their own death as long as their parents are alive and healthy. But as your parent's health declines, you will probably become highly aware of your own mortality. You might start thinking about the end of your own life or have frequent nightmares about dying. You might start examining where you are in life and re-evaluating your long-term goals. When you face the death of someone close to you, it will often spark thoughts about your own life. This is good, and the way to make use of this constructively is to realize how precious life is and what is really important to you.



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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Perfect Marriage © 2001 by Hilary Rich and Helaina Laks Kravitz, M.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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