One of the most difficult things to accept as we age is that our parents are aging, too. People we once viewed as our heroes, our guardian angels, or simply as invincible, are indeed getting older. This transition from “being cared for” to “caretaker” can be one of the toughest shifts we face in adult life. It could mean balancing more doctor’s appointments, more medications, hiring a caregiver, relocation, or a total shift in daily priorities. From potentially providing care for your own children, to also having to worry about your parents, it is a big mental leap.
This stage of life can be incredibly stressful. The concept of “loss” here has many complex layers, and it impacts us all in different ways. Feelings of anxiety, worry, and fear are common as we see people we once considered indestructible become weaker with time. Yet, this is an indisputable part of life, and there are several things we can do to make it easier on ourselves and those around us.
Parental relationships can be complicated, and considering the death of one or more of your parents is sure to bring up a ton of difficult and heavy emotions. Even when a relationship is riddled with pain or resentment, grief is a complex process, and it will demand mental attention in some way. It is crucial that you take care of yourself as you deal with emotions as important and big as family, life, and death. It might lead to some of the most beautiful, essential self-reflections you have ever been forced to have.
Give yourself grace
As parents begin to show more and more of the symptoms of age, children often begin to blame themselves for everything they have ever taken for granted. We tell ourselves, “I always do the wrong things,” or “I never do enough.” But who does this self-hate really help?
Enter the concept of inviting grace into your life. Rather than falling into a cycle of self-doubt, create space for self-compassion. The road is cluttered with difficult conversations, difficult considerations, and difficult decisions. Most women have been programmed to always put others before ourselves. However, if we don’t do things to keep our own cups full, we have nothing left to give others.
If you are coping with aging parents, chances are you are dealing with a lot, all at once. Be as patient and kind with yourself as possible to preserve your healthy emotional stability. This is so often overlooked by women, especially, who work overtime to ease the pain of others.
Lean on your community
We cannot achieve (or get through) big things in this life alone. Venting is key during this process. Don’t be afraid to lean on your friends and family members. Share your true feelings, good or bad. By investing in the relationships you have with your siblings, aunts, uncles, friends, and other family members, you are making your support system even stronger. Leaning on your community helps create space to really enjoy the life we have.
Aging or dying family members can remind us what truly matters to us. It may put an old grievance into perspective or inspire you to bury the hatchet. Consider this: Your friends and family are some of life’s greatest gifts. Go from there. Everyone deals with loss in their lives, and we create special bonds by going through it openly, honestly, and vulnerably together.
Process what you feel
Avoidance is a common coping mechanism for children whose parents are getting older. Thoughts like, “They’re completely fine,” “I can’t deal with this right now,” or “There’s nothing I can really do” may arise. While this reaction is normal, facing your emotions cannot be avoided forever. You will thank yourself for properly working through and healing from these thoughts later down the line.
Come to terms with the shrinking of your parents’ world. Knowing that they might leave us can dredge up old emotions, cycles, patterns, and good (or bad) memories that were hidden deep down. Rather than pushing away difficult-to-confront emotions, explore them. New perspectives during this time can create new opportunities to heal old wounds.
Seek healthy outlets that foster reflection. This could mean finding someone to talk things through with, like a professional and licensed therapist. It could mean joining or starting a support group for people going through similar things. You could even take up running, walking, swimming, painting, or birdwatching. No matter what, do not give up on finding the best way to face your feelings, because this is challenging and life-changing for nearly everyone.
Celebrate whenever possible
This may be the most surprising advice you hear on this topic: Celebrate each and every moment you have with your aging parents.
Why? Because by celebrating the lives we have, and focusing on gratitude, the grieving process becomes a slightly lighter load to bear. By rejoicing in the time we can spend together, no moment feels wasted. Focus on creating joyful memories by spending time with your parents, trying new things together, or repeating old traditions.
Your parents are wise – hopefully they have lived a long life filled with lessons. Talk to them and foster those deep conversations. Ask them for advice while you still can! Share the big questions you have about love, life, children, and the universe. Take in the wisdom your parents have accumulated from their journeys on Earth, and don’t be afraid to write it down or record these on video — or just with audio, if pointing a camera may feel intrusive.
Investing serious time and effort into memorializing the lives of your family can be so rewarding. You may think you’ll always remember the stories they tell, but as time passes, details are inevitably lost. Online platforms like Storyworth.com, LiveOn, Vita and others are created expressly to help you document the details of your loved ones’ lives.
Get creative by recording audio notes, having family portrait sessions, or even writing a book to document their stories. Having a permanent and tangible memory of your parents’ incredible hardships, achievements, and life lessons will be a beautiful gift for the generations to come.