The Courage To Care

My first clue that my elderly parents needed extra help around their apartment surfaced during a weekend stay with them in Southern California. I was living in Denver working as an executive at a large company. My job entailed travel and I relished opportunities to extend a business trip to visit Mom and Dad.

Woman with elderly parents

Shannon's personal story

On this particular visit, I noticed their apartment was messy. The beds were made, but there were dirty dishes in the kitchen sink and on the stove. A half-full carton of milk was left open on the counter and there were crumbs all over the floor. In the bathroom I couldn't see the countertop underneath the dozens of pill bottles, sundries and cosmetics. Soiled clothes were strewn around the floor of the bathroom and bedroom instead of in the empty hamper. All of the wastebaskets were overflowing of trash.

Exasperated, I stormed into the living room where Mom and Dad sat watching TV and yelled, 'What's going on here? Why is this place such a dump?' The minute I said it, I knew it was overkill. Mom was too shocked to respond.

Instead of pursuing the subject, I simply started cleaning. It took me four hours to wash all the dishes, scrub the floors, vacuum, sweep the patio, clean the bathrooms, bathe their little poodle, and do laundry.

The next day, I noticed Mom was wearing the same stained clothing she had on the day before. I suggested she put on a fresh outfit but she refused. That evening I sat with her on the sofa. 'I'm worried about you, Mom. Why are you not taking care of yourself and your home?' I asked.

'I just don't have as much energy as I used to,' she said. 'The place gets cleaned when the cleaning lady comes every other week.'

'That's not enough,' I said. 'A filthy environment isn't healthy.'

'Mind your own business,' she admonished. 'We're doing fine and I don't want strangers in my home.'

We agreed to increase the housekeeper's visits to twice a week and I went home to Denver. Two weeks later my brother called to say Mom had told the cleaning lady to go back to every other week and the apartment was a dump.

I am the eldest child and the classic dutiful daughter. With a grown stepson, I was deemed by the family to be the one to work out a solution for our parents. I agreed to come for another long weekend with Mom and Dad.

Moving to California

The weekend turned into a week. By week's end, I had made some serious decisions. My husband agreed that we should quit our jobs, sell our home and move to California. I envisioned finding a team of professionals to care for my parents in the first month and then seeking a new corporate job.

Nothing went according to my plan. I hired caregivers and my parents fired them the next day, or made their lives so miserable they quit. They wanted me to be their caregiver. They got used to my support. Within two months I knew I was taking an indefinite time-out from my career. My husband went back to work full-time and I became a family caregiver.

My ego took a huge hit because I no longer had the corporate vice president title. I was living with a double-edged sword -- enjoying my time with Mom and Dad but feeling as though my identity had been taken away. Managing medications, taking them to doctor's appointments and cleaning house daily was very different from writing proposals and presenting plans to executives.

Several months after moving, a friend offered me some freelance writing assignments. While freelancing, I realized how difficult it is for working caregivers to manage even a part-time job, let alone a full-time one, with the flexibility associated with caregiving.

The courage to care

With so many Boomers facing the issues of caring for their parents, I decided to write a book and share the eight 'footprints' -- qualities that served me on my path -- The Heart Way: A Journey from Corporate to Care. One of the most important footprints is common courage, something most of us summon daily. It's the courage to walk out of a meeting with an abusive boss or take the car keys away from your father who shouldn't be driving. The journey to care requires taking action in spite of our fears, being committed to an outcome while doubting we can achieve it. It takes courage to ask for support when we are burned out because most of us have never been trained to do it. It takes courage for our friends to suggest we might need more help.

If you or someone who loves you thinks you are losing sight of your own well-being by trying to balance caregiving and work, take the American Medical Association's 'Caregiver Self-Assessment' test.

Check your local caregiver resources. Consider joining a support group. Sometimes the best support comes from people who share your experience.

Repeat this affirmation daily until you truly embrace it: 'I now allow others to love and support me'. Having the courage to allow others to help us balances out the care we give and makes us feel whole.

For more information about Shannon Ingram's book: The Heart Way: A Journey from Corporate to Care

More tales of compassion on SheKnows:

From mom to lifesaver - A bone marrow donor
The boy who saved thousands of lives

Tags: aging parents caregiving


Comments on "Caring for your elderly parents"

Karen Twichell February 14, 2010 | 3:22 PM

As a fellow caregiver and author friend of Shannon's I have followed her warm and remarkable story for several years. Shannon walks the talk and has helped so many others with their caregiving challenges. I'm proud to call her a friend as well as an expert.

Theresa February 06, 2010 | 9:28 PM

Shannon, you writing is so clear and heartfelt. I'm sure your story will help so many people. Thank you for sharing it.

Carol January 29, 2010 | 1:01 PM

This article and your book are so helpful for those of us who are struggling with similar challenges with our elderly parents. All of us "kids" in this situation need help. My parents are totally resistant to any help and yet they are not eating well, their house is dirty, and my dad drinks so although he says he is there for my mom, he isn't a good deal of the time. Both have a myriad of health problems but hers are the worst. I am across the country and have two siblings who are near them, but my parents resist their help. We have gained some valuable insights from Shannon's book and appreciate so much her contribution to so many of us who need advice!

Nancy January 28, 2010 | 3:42 PM

Wow - a powerful article! Shannon, you are doing what so many people are/will be doing. My parents (72 & 70) are still very independent, but that can change tomorrow. Your book has me more prepared for what my future can hold!

Marianne January 28, 2010 | 2:13 PM

You are so thoughtful and insightful. I am morphing into the "older" generation now that my beloved parents are both gone. Your article reminds me that it is time to write myself a message on how not to be resentful of positive criticism from my children. As much as I think I will welcome helpful comments, I fear I will be more like your mother and my mother than I wish to be. Change so often becomes the enemy of the elderly. We need to accept help when it is offered. Thanks for the reminder. Keep writing on this topic!

Sue January 26, 2010 | 1:46 PM

Your parents are fortunate to have a daughter like you. Thanks for sharing your personal experience.

CL January 25, 2010 | 4:42 PM

I continue to reference Shannon's story to so many that are struggling with "what to do". Thank you Shannon for sharing your Life with everyone!

Barbara January 25, 2010 | 2:37 PM

This article, and Shannon's book, provides readers with great insight on how to navigate the often bumpy road of being a caregiver for aging parents. Despite the difficulty and strain of being a caregiver, Shannon models the caring and loving approach -- and sense of humor - so necessary when traveling this path. We need to see more of this type of article, and more open discussions, in preparation for all family members who may become caregivers. Kudos Shannon!

Victoria January 25, 2010 | 11:41 AM

Shannon, your story written from the heart is timely and important, while sweet and caring. I so appreciate the insights and honesty you share in your article and in the book. My Dad, who is 85, does amazingly well, all things considered; and even so, his short visit to my home over the holidays gave me so much more understanding of his every-day challenges now that he's an octogenarian. I'm so glad your book prepared me for some otherwise shocking insights. Well written, well done!

Shannon Inouye January 25, 2010 | 10:44 AM

Thank you for sharing your insights,frustrations, and the solution that worked for your family. I have been through similar transitions with my mother six years ago, and then my father four years ago, as their health deteriorated. Circumstances were different for each, and there were different things to learn for each caregiving situation. It is a challenge most of us will face sooner or later.

Lia Segerblom January 24, 2010 | 1:41 PM

Thank you for an inspiring and insightful article, Shannon! Although both of my parents have both passed on, my husband's father has not, and he is a full functioning 91 years old! Who knows what the future will hold!? Your article is helping many people who's lives you haved touched. Thank you for thinking of and assisting others. You are a bright light in the world! Thank you for candidly sharing your story to benefit others. Blessings, Lia xoxo

Muff January 23, 2010 | 6:12 PM

Thanks for your great insites. My Mom turns 95 in a few days. She is sharp as a tack mentally, but can't see well enough to do her bills, etc. Starting autopay for her next month. The caregivers just can't handle these items - I am so looking forward to tax prep this year! Shannon, you've paved the way for so many!

KC January 23, 2010 | 12:11 AM

Thanks Shannon. I'm getting there... with mom now 88.

Charlotte January 22, 2010 | 5:36 PM

Thanks for writing this article (and the book) Shannon. Your experiences and insights are invaluable for those of us trying to navigate the uncharted territory of caregiving. In my case, I am the 24/7 caregiver for my ill spouse, and since I never had children, this level of responsibility caught me completely unprepared. Even though my situation is different, your advice rings true.

LInda January 22, 2010 | 4:43 PM

Excellent article Shannon! Thank you for sharing your valuable information.

Evelyn January 22, 2010 | 3:32 PM

Thank you, Shannon, for sharing your story and the difficult lessons that you learned about caring for loved ones who are unable to care for themselves. We need to hear more and learn more about this growing challenge that boomer women are facing.

Tara January 22, 2010 | 3:24 PM

This is an important topic not many people are discussing. Caregivers are often an overlooked segment of the population in spite of the fact that so many in this country are adult caregivers for loved ones. I’m glad that SheKnows is supporting this topic and providing a valuable resource to its readers. I look forward to reading more from Shannon on this topic.

Sylvia January 22, 2010 | 3:23 PM

Outstanding article! I was in the same situation with my Mom and that was 20 years ago. This kind of info was not available or I just didn't know where to find it, nor did I have the time. But with Shannon sharing her story and many others like her has helped many caregivers to learn how to cope with their situation. I applaud Shannon for sharing this.

Suzanne January 22, 2010 | 3:21 PM

Food for thought. Thank you Shannon.

Linda Hazen January 22, 2010 | 2:43 PM

Excellent article! The reality is that we all have parents or other family members that we are responsible for who age and need a different kind of care. In our current society in the US most of our TV talk shows feature parent/children care & how to handle issues from birth to adulthood; but few of these shows do repeat airings featuring the reverse scenario - Children/Parent care. The more we see and hear of this the more we learn the "how tos" .

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