The Perils of Elderly Parents

Posted on October 19, 2011

One challenging thing about heading towards your mid forties is the prospect of coping with the complexities of having elderly parents or in my case an elderly parent. To see someone who used to partake in boxing and rugby beginning to look vulnerable and weak is a strange experience, particularly when that person has a mind that is fully functioning and frustrated with the limitations that the body is putting on it, it is just not fair really, but it is reality all the same. I have just spent a couple of days down at Milford-on-Sea where my Dad lives and is currently convalescing from yet another illness that has left him so tired that he is barely awake, it leaves me wondering what to do and how to deal with it.

The key word here is patronising. How do you help someone who really doesn’t relish being old and increasingly disabled without patronising them, or to put it more bluntly….pissing them off? Some people love being old, they like to moan about the youth of today, they relish in their ailments and spend their sixties salivating at the prospect of getting their first mobility scooter. My Dad isn’t like that, he talks fondly of my children, he is always playing with technology, he knows more about IT than I do and he can still march through the Daily Telegraph crossword. It may take a few seconds for him to register things now, but he still talks about the “oldies” in the village as if he is forty, not seventy nine, the brain is still young but the body is giving up, how can that be fair?

I was really subtle and careful with my words when I was there, because the last thing I want is for him to lose his independence, I just know how much that will affect him as a proud man to have that stripped away, but the fact is, if I hadn’t been on the phone to him when he fell ill, I could be at his funeral now. I am not claiming heroics, it was just a pure fluke of circumstance that I rang him and then the ambulance. If he lived nearer to us all, perhaps he could maintain his independence but be safe in the knowledge he had close friends and family within striking distance in a crisis, we could pop in and out all the time. This is something he did not dismiss completely, but saying that, Milford is a lovely place and I know he has enjoyed living there because of the wildlife that the sea offers. To be blunt, Milford is nicer than Tadley or Hatch Warren.

The sea crashing in on Milford beach yesterday

It’s a tough call, but one I will support him with and I am going to spend more time down there for now on. I work from home anyway, so it is no different being sat in his house than it is in my own and besides, I really like taking a stroll along the coast from Keyhaven to Milford to get his morning paper, it is an invigorating walk along the front with the wind whipping up the waves from the channel. It is a walk for all seasons just as compelling in rain or shine and a great way to clear the head and deal with all the little issues that come crop on a daily basis to test us all. When I walked along there yesterday I had quite a poignant thought…..I used to walk this path with my Dad and the kids a lot, yesterday I did it on my own and because of varying different aspects of the ageing process, it is walk that we will probably never take as a group again. That made me quite reflective, if not sad.

About halfway along I saw a man of about my age having a cup of tea with his parents in one of those beach hut things that are so popular with British seaside culture and because I  talk to anyone who is prepared to listen we got chatting. They were eighty odd and he brings them down from West London every October treating everyone like it’s last, lifting them down to front in their wheelchairs, setting them up with their newspapers and making tea while his dog frollicks in the sea. This what he said:

“My Dad was a really tough man you know, a footballer an army officer and a loyal civil servant, he doesn’t deserve to be in a wheelchair, he hates it, he is just too proud. Look at him, he wants to be down there messing about with the dog….do you know…. if I can do just a bit to make him a bit happier after all he has done for me, then I can stand up at his funeral knowing I did my best.”

What a great bloke….I shook his hand, wished him luck and carried on walking up the beach wiping a tear from my cheek.

Don’t give up on your parents folks!

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