As a caregiver, I make a hundred decisions on my parents' behalf every week. Whenever possible, I make decisions with my parents - but many times I am forced to make decisions for them. Some are easier than others.
Sometimes I take it in stride...other days the stress piles up and an implosion is inevitable. Some decisions are made quickly in the spur of the moment - like deciding whether to take time to stop and take a walk with Dad and Jackson, choosing flowers at the grocery store for Mom, or deciding to spend a bit more on organic veggies for them. Other decisions require more thought and sometimes extensive research, such as choices about their finances, properties, health care and legal issues.
Every decision - big or small - I make has unlimited outcomes.
In the three years of intensive caregiving for my parents, these four decisions are some of the hardest I've had to make:
- Moving 2,000 miles away. I left Washington DC for Arizona when it became apparent that my parents needed full-time help. It put a gigantic distance between me and my boyfriend, friends, activities, community, working base and the majority of my support system I had built up there for 15 years. Moving my parents to be near me might have been easier for me, but would have made things much worse for them, speeding up dementia progression for Daddy and exacerbating Mom's health issues with the variable weather of the east coast. Plus the cost of living was also much higher. Yes, it has made my life more difficult, but it just felt like the right thing to do.
- Staying in "independent living" housing. When my parents were ready to move from their home of 28 years, we decided together that their needs were best met at a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) in the independent living level. Since then, their needs have increased, and I have considered a move to assisted living. But my parents need more assistance than offered in these facilities. I've made the decision, for now, to keep them in their current living situation for the various benefits (sense of community, socialization, lovely grounds, some activities, meals, safe environment) and supplement with costly paid caregivers 24/7.
- Limiting time with other loved ones. Spending more time with my parents has consequences, and one is spending less time with other loved ones. I had to make the decision not to invite my niece to live with me when her Mom moved out of state because I knew I had to focus on my parents. That is a decision that will always be difficult for me to live with, but it was the hard decision I had to make at the time.
- Selling the family farm. When I was about 10 years old, my parents bought a 75 acre farm. About 12 miles from our home in the rolling hills of Athens, Ohio, we had horses, cows, chickens and various other critters there. We grew gardens, cut down Christmas trees, hiked and fished. My Dad, the "gentleman farmer," worked tirelessly on the barn and other outbuildings, refurbishing the 150 year old farm house for many years so he and Mom could move there full-time eventually. But just when it was completed they moved to Arizona so Dad could lead the communication department at Arizona State University. They continued to visit every summer, holding many a family reunion there and my sister has lived on the farm for about 20 years. Our family has a very deep bond with that land. But Mom and Dad's finances had been depleted by health and caregiving expenses, and several years ago their financial advisor had urged them to sell the farm. They agreed, but it had not happened. Last year I made the decision to move forward and find a buyer, and we closed on the sale last month. It's the end of an era, and I hate that I had to be the one to bring it to a close.
These have all been tough decisions, and I know there are many more ahead of me - large and small. I play the "what if" game more than I know I should; did I make the right decision? But my wise friend, Anne, has always told me, "Don't should on yourself." I know she's right. So I make the best educated decisions I can at the time and try not to beat myself up for occasionally second-guessing them. I'm human, and having someone else's lives in my hands is not something I can take lightly.
Each decision moves us forward ... and another decision can always be made in the future.
Photo Credit: Sarah Brodzinski