As David and I supported our mother’s two very different aging processes (my mother, Mable’s body wore out as his mother, Isabel’s mind deteriorated),
we waxed and waned between being healthcare professionals (David, a physician and I, a nurse) and being a son and a daughter. David describes this tension and our resolution beautifully, in the Afterword of Without Regrets:
Helen’s and my ability to put our professional talents together to help our mothers in their declining days put us to the test. We managed to do it not because we were healthcare workers, but because we recognized that we had been a son and a daughter before we became a doctor and a nurse. And we were adult children before we became caregivers and in my case a guardian. We “descended” into our former roles as adult children in order to remain compassionate and caring. I learned that my job was to be an advocating son primarily and secondarily a physician. Keeping to this clear and simple formula helped me fulfill my role with more emotional honesty and satisfaction.
Caregiving for Aging Parents
David and I discovered that a quintessential question kept recurring on our journeys with each of our moms. “What do I really hope for regarding Mother’s care?”
In my teachings and writings I frequently advise others to ask “what they can do for others” in lieu of “what they should they do,” and our question assisted us in doing just that. We established goals for our mothers that led us to unique decisions that were fitting for who our mother’s were, not only what modern medicine had to offer.
It is a good thing for all of us to remember that just because treatments and technologies are available, they are not always fitting for our aging and frail loved one. Having no regrets means that the decisions we make are parallel with what the person would say if they were able to make their own decision and inform us of it. Searching for what Mable or Isabel would say, when they had lost capacity, looked similar to what our hopes for them were: No pain. Safety. Good hygiene. Somewhat normal lives for ourselves. Not easily done!