I think about my parents and how they’ve changed in their independence and I wonder where the time went. It seems like it was only a few years ago they were hopping on planes to visit family or going on a cruise. Now a trip to the doctor’s office is the big event for the day. At 86 and 87, their need for my assistance has changed dramatically. With my dad’s macular degeneration, the freedom of driving to my home on a Sunday afternoon is no-longer. My sister and I have to be his eyes for his business items like typing his letters or organizing his taxes. My mom has a restricted license – only to go to church and the store.
It’s not always about the day-to-day coordination that weighs on me – since I have a full time and very demanding job – but it’s the emotional roller coaster that comes along with it all. It seems my once independent business owner dad has forgotten what it’s like to be 50, raising a family and working. He will share his aches and pains and tell me how he never imagined that the third part of his life would be so miserable. I wish more than anything he didn’t feel so blue all the time but given his poor health, who could blame him? I imagine having macular degeneration is a horrible feeling and having to depend on your five kids can be frustrating. The guilt I feel on an ongoing basis is overwhelming and I try very hard to call, visit and provide as much positivity as I possibly can.
His glass is always half empty and after talking to him, I spend the entire time trying to fill it up, reminding him how he’s had a successful life, can still walk and get around and is cancer free. I encourage him to be happy with so much to be grateful for; adult kids all living close by, financially stable allowing him to buy anything he needs or wants, etc.
My mom is the polar opposite of my dad and a forever optimist, but she inevitably gets caught in the wake of my dad’s blues. My guilt continues since the core focus always remains on my dad and I don’t get to catch up with my mom. The days for them are long and to break up their week, I will come by at lunch or immediately after work and eat with them. We will sit at the kitchen table and I will try and engage my mom in conversation. I’ll always envy her wicked memory where she can recite any childhood memory.
I’m the youngest of five children. Also, I have a few friends that are in the same boat with their parents, while others have parents who have passed away and remind me that I don’t have my parents forever. It’s a good reminder when I get frustrated.
As an executive for a Medicare health plan, I meet many seniors and it seems at this age, there are two types – those that have aged gracefully and are happy with their lives and those that see the glass always empty. It’s what motivated us, the staff at Inter Valley Health Plan to develop our program called Bee Happy. It’s giving people the tools to look at things a little differently – like my mother. She is the shining example of Bee Happy! In my journey of caring for my elderly parents, I have taken on the role of not just caretaker but therapist and friend. Although life can seem chaotic and just sad at times, there are many others experiencing the same and I always recommend connecting with others for support. Don’t try and tackle this journey alone. Socialize and pursue the hobbies you love with the people you love. Despite the challenges, I have two of the best parents and I am grateful for every minute I have with them!
Cyndie O’Brien is a daughter, wife and mother, and also vice president of sales, marketing and member services of Inter Valley Health Plan, one of the region’s leading and oldest Medicare Advantage health plans in Southern California. She currently resides in Upland with her husband and three children.