The email is intriguing: My friend is gathering a group who are grappling with caregiving issues for a brainstorming dinner at her home. She feels overwhelmed, with a job and husband in Boston and very ill parents in Connecticut.
Not only do I write about caregivers, but I’ve been one for 14 years straight (first my father, then my mother, now my mother-in-law).
I’ve never met the others at the dinner table. At 58, I’m the baby, while one of the guests is turning eighty. Some of us have downsized, others have big houses they vow never to leave (that would be the 79-year-old who works full-time).
I think the conversation is going to be about how hard it is to be in this role—the exhaustion, the guilt, resentment, worry, and time drain, for starters. But, it’s really about how we can avoid finding ourselves in many of our parents’ positions when we’re their age, and how we make it easier on our kids.
The host mentions the mistakes she thinks her parents have made: Refusing to leave their house so that now, even with full-time help, her dad feels isolated. (Her mother has Alzheimer’s, her dad, late stage cancer.)
She wants to know what others think about moving near their adult children when they can no longer take care of themselves. (Most of us raise our hands.)
A guest says that as soon as she or her husband die, the other will move out of state near one of their two daughters. The daughters have already scouted out places and she’s seen them in each city. “What does she think?” we ask. She says, “It’s fine, I will make friends. But most important, I will be close to my child so my kids don’t have to worry about me”—the way she did with her long-distance parents.
How considerate, I think. My husband asks why we are so reluctant to lean on our kids when we need them, just as they have leaned on us (and still do) for so long?
A male in his 60s talks about how his parents died in a retirement community, in their own beds surrounded by friends and family. He says he, too, wants to grow old with caring people.
He has an idea: What if a group of friends buys a building rehab it and live together in separate units so they can help support one another?
As I write this, I get a phone call from another friend in the throes of caregiving. How about getting a group together for lunch to talk about it?
We’re meeting next week. You can do the same.