In a recent study done by the Administration on Aging, 2014 data showed that the aging population, qualified as aged 65 or older, in our country currently represents 14.5 percent of Americans, or an estimated 1 in 7 Americans. The AOA predicts a drastic uptick in that number by 2060, with more than twice the number of elderly citizens expected to make up the population than the current 14.5 percent.
Why is this important? Is this relevant information for anyone that is under age 65? I’ve been asking myself that question, along with many others, on a regular basis lately. I think about the subject because in our country, there seems to be an alarming trend of overall disrespect and apathy for those that raised us.
At some point in the lives of most, a parent will fall ill unexpectedly or acquire health issues due to age, requiring extra love and care. This is something that most of us know will occur and is a natural part of life, but there is also a mindset that tells us, “This will never happen to me/my family/my mom.” When that fateful day arrives, it can be a slap in the face to everyone involved.
That day arrived for my family in February of this year, striking a family member down with a sudden stroke. After the initial blur of getting into the emergency room, then transferring our loved one into a neurological ICU, the emotions, questions, and realities started hitting hard and fast.
My husband and I had a lot of decisions to make, very quickly, while the rest of the world and our jobs continued at a seemingly frenetic pace. What does our loved one want? What are his needs? How can we maintain our loved one’s dignity and individuality while he battles his own body? Who will care for him around the clock, and how can we make this happen while keeping our careers steady?
The questions were interspersed with the sharp spikes and decline of our loved one’s health, making it hard to come to any solid answer. Many care providers I’ve spoken with over the years, from IHSS workers to family members, find this period of adjustment and shock to be overwhelming. Caring for anyone, in entirety, is a difficult task to take on, and the social complexities that accompany the care of a relative can be perplexing.
Before we had even come near to answering those questions in fullness, our loved one came home to live with us, and now life has given us the opportunity for daily lessons in patience, empathy, stress management and gratitude.
We are fortunate in that we can have our loved one at home. Many cannot, and must make the agonizing decision as to where their loved one will live and who will care for them. Stories about negligent home health workers and horrifying nursing homes seem to be a daily theme in our country on the negative side of the news.
With each new day, the role of care provider fits my husband and I a bit easier, but the challenge comes when care providers forget to care for themselves.
It is all too easy to skip meals, forego sleep and load yourself down with attempts at multitasking when you have devoted your attention fully towards a loved one.
Generally, the priority is the health and well being of your loved one, as it should be, but I have been reminded by close friends that you cannot refill anyone else’s glass if your own is empty. With that helpful advice in mind, I continue to strive for some kind of a balance, as our family shifts into our “new normal.”
While this is just a little piece of my family’s story, it is a story told in innumerable ways by countless individuals as the circle of life continues, as it always has. We’re born, we live and we pass away.
There is a poem that puts the sentiment into words quite nicely, written by Ron Tranmer, titled “The Dash Between.” A brief excerpt from the poem reads, “The dash serves as an emblem of our time here on the earth, and although small, it stands for all our years of life, and worth … our worth will be determined by how we live each day. We can fill our dash with goodness, or waste our life away.”