Father's Day gives us the chance to salute our dads and say thanks for all they're done for us. As we all grow and mature, our relationships with our fathers change but the bond of love is constant. If your dad has become more fragile as he ages, it's likely that your connection has been transformed.
Today nearly 10 million adults are caregivers for their aging parents and the stress of struggling with these duties and responsibilities can be overwhelming for baby boomers. It's difficult to watch as parents deteriorate and they may complicate the situation by being in denial about their vulnerable condition.
If you're in the sandwich generation caring for an elderly father, it's up to you to acknowledge the true state of affairs and be straightforward in dealing with his increasing fragility. You'll need to discuss practical, yet uncomfortable, issues - health care directives, long-term care options, a designated power of attorney, distribution of income and assets. After addressing your most immediate concerns, here are some tips to help you plan and implement your care:
Learn about your dad’s illness. Educate yourself on what to expect and how to recognize warning signs threatening your father's health and independence. Talk to friends who have gone through similar experiences in order to get realistic feedback and concrete advice.
Surf the Internet to investigate resources available to you. Some nonprofit organizations offer free services or financial grants for respite care for family members who provide most of the care to their chronically ill elders. If you're in the U.S., the National Family Caregiver Support Program provides funds and the Eldercare Locator identifies programs in local communities.
Involve you dad in decision-making. If you decide it's necessary to move your father out of his home or take over management of his finances that may signify a loss of independence to him, leading to anger, frustration, or depression. Understanding his pain, taking it slow and engaging a geriatric social worker or gerontologist can help the process.
Embrace the changes in your dad and respect his integrity. As he becomes less strong physically and mentally, he may lose some of the magical power he once had in your eyes. Still you can admire his courage and dignity, as he struggles, coming to terms with end of life issues. Recall the good times you shared even as you adjust to the changes in your roles.
Get help. You don't have to do it alone. Reach out, create a network, hire someone to assist Dad as often as you think it's necessary. Have support systems in place, even if it's over his objections. Make good use of community interventions, respite care, support groups and adult caregiver resources.
Involve your siblings. Be honest with your family about your needs. . Ask for practical help and delegate responsibilities. Have them set aside personal agendas and work together toward goals on which you've agreed.
Consider your present challenge as a teachable moment. Learn from the experience and apply these lessons to other areas of your life. What insight have you gained about dealing with your own healthy aging process? How can you talk to your children about your wishes when you become older?
Look for positives. Think less about what you're losing and more about the chance you may be gaining. Spending more time with your father, you'll have the opportunity to give back to him emotionally what he's given to you. And you may learn a lot about yourself and your capacity for resiliency as you care for Dad in the last years of his life.
This weekend, if you can, let Dad know how much you appreciate the role he has played in your life. If your father is no longer alive, share stories about him with your children and grandchildren so they will know the kind of man he was. And a very Happy Father's Day to all the men in our lives.