Losing Elderly Parents

PREFACE

It is only in recent times that I have realised how much time has passed since I began writing about Losing Elderly Parents after the deaths of mine in May 2009 and September 2010 respectively.  It is difficult to believe that it is now 2016!

I am anxious to keep the original order in which I wrote the initial posts as I think the first year after my father’s death in 2010 was crucially important for me. However, I also want to stress the point that I have continued to write about this topic in the intervening years and the full list of posts that I have categorised under the heading can be found here:

SECTION ONE

INTRODUCTION

Both my parents died within the last 18 months and I have started to reach out from the domain of  ‘me’  losing  ‘my’ parents to the more general question of what is involved in coping with losing elderly parents.

This process has brought me into a world of  books, journals, organisations, new terminology, new thoughts and a recognition that there are layers and dimensions to this whole process that I hadn’t been able to even begin to reach.

So, I would like to use my writings on this site to share what I find in this particular part of the journey and I would be very interested in other people’s insights, be they from personal or professional experience.

For me the concept of ‘losing’ parents relates to the time before they die and the time afterward.  Like most ‘children’, I expected my parents to die before I did, but I now realise that the process of ‘losing’  varies considerably, especially in terms of one’s awarness, acceptance and, indeed, the timing involved.

Also, what is ‘elderly?’   Life expectancy has changed considerably over the last century and now it is not uncommon for people to live beyond a hundred years. In my case, my mother was 88 when she died in 2009 and my father was 91 when he passed last September.

In my next post, I would like to write about the impact which Cicero’s book, On a Life Well Spent, had on my overall perception of  aging and dying in ‘old age.’

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SECTION  TWO

HOW CICERO CHANGED MY VIEWS ON DYING IN OLD AGE

Cicero’s book, On a Life Well Spent, which was written around 50 BC , played a huge role in changing my views on ageing and dying in old age. It was a change which I certainly never anticipated and, unlike so many other books, the effects have lasted and, indeed grown, since I read it first about 18 months ago.

I read On a Life Well Spent, for the first time, about 2 months after my mother died  and 16 months before my father died.

I was particularly taken by Cicero’s view of life in seasonal terms and I quote:

The stages of life are fixed; nature is the same in all, and goes on in a plain and steady course: every part of life, like the year, has its peculiar season….. As it is with the fruits of trees and of the earth, seasons should be allowed for their springing, growing, ripening and at last to drop.

Reading this I came to see my father, who was 90, as being in the Winter of his life and, on reflection, saw that my mother who was 88 when she  died as having been in the Winter of her life when she had passed. Before she had died, I was forever in what I now see as ‘crisis/ red alert mode’, thinking cure, longevity and never accepting the inevitability of death.

For me, Cicero’s  perspective on life began to  impose a natural order on what seemed  like turmoil and chaos.  He describes death in old age in the following tranquil terms:

Old men expire of themselves, like a flame when all its fuel is spent. And as unripe fruit requires some force to part it from its native bough;  but when it comes to full maturity, it drops of itself  without any hand to touch it: so young people die by something violent or unnatural, but the old by mere ripeness. The thoughts of which to me are now become so agreeable that the nearer I draw to my end, it seems like discovering the land at sea, that, after the tossings of a tedious and stormy voyage, will yield me a safe and quiet harbour.

 The impact of these words changed my whole view of my father’s ageing and impending death. I accepted that he was dying and saw this as being as natural as the sun setting or the ripe apple falling from the tree.  In practical terms, I saw my role as being to enhance the quality of the time he had left. Part of this meant allowing him to dictate the pace, be in control.

In terms of our father/daughter relationship, it meant letting him dictate how he wanted this to go. There were times when he very much wanted to be ‘father’ and ‘grandfather’ and pass on his wisdom. At other times, he wanted me to take responsibility but rather than assuming this, as I had tended to do before reading Cicero, I would double check with him.

Another important development, which arose from reading Cicero, and accepting that my father was ‘dying’, was that I learned to take his lead about whether and when he wanted to talk about dying. This meant being very tuned in and making sure that I didn’t brush aside his wishes to talk about dying and death. This was something that I had tended to do with my mother.

Crucial, too, was my much more relaxed position in relation to ‘letting’ my father die. Just as one would not try and superglue a ripe apple to a tree, I came to realise that ‘letting nature take its course’ meant allowing father to dictate in terms of  whether, and how much, he ate and drank.  This wasn’t always easy but it soon became very clear to me that I wasn’t necessarily doing a ‘better job’ if I somehow managed to get him to drink an extra glass of water when he made it abundantly clear that he didn’t want it.

In hindsight, I feel that Cicero’s philosophy undoubtedly helped me to come to terms with the deaths of both my parents. It has also made me very aware of the extent to which, as a society, we have moved away from the ‘natural’ flow of life and the different seasons because of urban living.

Many  of the ‘ children’ of elderly parents will themselves be in the late summer or  autumn of their own lives. Reading Cicero, makes one so much more aware of the aspects of these seasons and also, indeed, the beauty of winter.

Safe and Quiet Harbour

Posted January 20th, 2011

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SECTION THREE

MEMORYBRIDGES AND QUALITY COMMUNICATION

If Cicero’s On a Life Well Spent was the book which made a lasting impact on me in relation to coping with losing my parents, I would say that the website that captivated and inspired me most during the last months of my father’s life was http://www.memorybridge.org.

My father had significant problems with his short-term memory and this was compounded in his last eight months, especially, by declining energy levels. However, he craved companionship and meaningful communication. He had always been a great conversationalist, listener, and story-teller and had a great sense of humour as well as excellent analytical skills and was one of those people who could weigh up situations wisely.

Just as Father longed to be able to connect, being able to have quality communication with him was incredibly important to me. Both he and I knew that he did not have long to live and we wanted to be able to make the very most of the time we had left.

The Memory Bridge Foundation was set up with the very goal of  highlighting  the importance of quality connection for people with Alheimer’s Disease and dementia. Here is how it describes its mission:

Everyone, regardless of their degree of mental sharpness,
 
needs companionship, not only to physically survive
 
but also to live emotionally
 

MemoryBridge creates programs that connect people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias to family, friends, and other people in their local community. We also create programs that reveal to the general public the depths of memory that dementia does not erase.

Our goal is to create a global community of people who, like us, are learning to listen to people with dementia for what they have to teach us about our own humanity.

The Memory Bridge Foundation places huge emphasis on the fact that people with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia can and want to connect to other people, and that that connection can be immensely fulfilling for both the person with dementia and those who take the time to find the best ways of  communicating with them.

I would say that much of the communication I had with my father in his last months had more depth and significance to me than at other times in my life, times when both of us were busy and probably taking each other too much for granted.

For those months, we worked hard at connecting and it was strange how the narrower Father’s life became, in terms of being confined to bed, the more the world seemed to open up. He talked a lot about his childhood and told me things about his parents, my grandparents, that I had never known. He also gave me insights into his percpective on what it had been like to be ‘father’ to me when I was growing up and indeed how it still was to be ‘father’ to me , and ‘grandfather’ to my son.

I found myself bringing the world into his room – flowers from his garden that he had tended with such enjoyment; photographs of places which he loved; music, expecially of singers whose concerts, he and I had attended together; poetry which both of us loved but had never even talked about before, poems like Wordsworth’s The Daffodils and I Remember, I Remember by Thomas Hood.

Music and poetry became very special in our relationship toward the very end and it was incredible how much peace came, for both of us, in listening to music, for example, knowing that this was shared time and shared enjoyment.

Reading the contributions to the Memory Bridge Foundation’s Forum, it is very clear that many, many other people have had these types of connections.  The work of the Foundation with young people in building relationships with people with dementia is work which has the potential to make huge changes in commonly held negative percpetions and virtual hopelessness  around diseases, such as Alzheimer’s Disease.

Posted January 21st, 2011

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 SECTION FOUR

MEMORY BRIDGES IN PRACTICE

 The concept of  ‘memory bridges,’ which I wrote about in an earlier post, very seldom leaves me.  It was brought to the fore again yesterday when reading an article about how quality communication is so important for people with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementias.

To give an example  of the way in which memory bridges connect us to our pasts and to other people, I have decided to post the piece I wrote for the Memory Bridge Foundation’s Forum.  It is called The Daffodils  and relates to the wonderful and lasting bond I retained with my father, who had dementia.

THE DAFFODILS:

MemoryBridge

 One of my proudest moments in primary school was coming second in a class competition reciting a poem. I had chosen The Daffodils by William Wordsworth. The winner recited I am a Little Teapot and I remember well how she acted out all the different parts brilliantly and rightfully won the prize of a bar of rose-scented soap.

            After I finished my Leaving Certificate, my older sister brought me on a hostelling trip around the Lake District in England.  We visited the romantic, old-world Dove Cottage in Grasmere, where Wordsworth composed most of his great poems, including, The Daffodils. I lingered and lingered there trying to soak up every detail of this overwhelmingly inspirational place.

            Thirty-five years on, Wordsworth and The Daffodils have re-entered my life, as I share treasured moments reading poetry to my Father who is in his ninety-first year and confined to bed. He has had memory problems for a number of years now. I would never have associated Dad with poetry but, by chance, one evening I took out an anthology of Best Loved Poems and started reading to him as he was too tired to talk. When I reached the last verse of The Daffodils, I heard his sleepy voice chime in with mine ‘And then my heart with pleasure fills/And dances with the daffodils’.  His pensive eyes met mine that evening, as they have on so many evenings since, with a glow of connection that draws us together on a memory bridge built of time, colour, laughter and love.

                   ********************************************

Dad died very peacefully at home in September, 2010.

six weeks since you died;

I planted daffodils

to keep you alive

 

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SECTION FIVE

DISENFRANCHISED GRIEF AND THE VERY OLD

In 1989, I came across a book called Disenfranchised Grief: Recognizing Hidden Sorrow by American gerontologist Kenneth Doka* which left a lasting impression on me because it raised issues about situations in which people experience a loss, yet their grief may go unrecognised by the people who surround them.  Among  the examples given on the fly-leaf are: a gay man who loses his lover to AIDS; a divorced woman who  receives the news of her ex-husband’s death;  an elderly man who loses his favourite pet.

I returned to the book again when I went in search of literature about ‘coping with losing elderly parents’  and found a paper in it by M. Moss and S. Moss called entitled, ‘Death of the Very Old.’

Moss and Moss note that when  one hears about a person’s death, often the first question asked is: ‘How old was he {or she}?’ They say that the intent of this simple query is complex and if the person was very old it may imply  that the mourner needs less comforting.  They also say that since the lives of older people tend to decrease in social value, it is likely that  the expression of grief is less socially meaningful when the deceased (and/or the survivor) is very old.

Moss and Moss’s point that it is necessary to recognise the complexity of the process of bereavement and the potential disenfranchisement of the grief in response to the death of very old persons is worthy of careful note.  In their 1989 paper, they identified a range of areas of research on the intereaction between old age and bereavement which required further research.

In the context of  ‘Coping with Losing Elderly Parents’,  I was particularly interested in their call for research into the following questions:

1. What are the similarities and differences in patterns and expectations of grief when the very old person is a spouse, or a parent, or a sibling, or other family relation?

2. Is there a shift over the life span in the degree to which the expression of grief is a solitary rather than a family or group experience?

Perhaps research has been conducted into these areas since 1989.  If anyone reading this Post is aware of such research, perhaps you would be kind enough to leave the relevant references.

* Doka, K. (Ed.) (1989), Disenfranchised Grief: Recognizing Hidden Sorrow (Massachusetts: Lexington Books)

 

 

SECTION SIX  

    THE MEANING OF HOME                                                

Philip B. Stafford, Ph.D., Director of the Center on Aging and Community, Indiana Institute on Disability and Community, at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN, USA  has written a very thought-provoking piece called the  ‘The Deep Meaning of Home’   on his blog at http://agingindiana.wordpress.com.

The key points which captivated me from this piece were Dr. Stafford’s emphasis on the difference between ‘home’ and ‘house’ and how ‘home’  has so many features which are bound up in memories of the journey through life.  Dr. Stafford is writing from the point of view of  ‘elders’ and the issue of  trying to understand the implications both, emotional and for policy, of the issue of possibly having to leave ‘home’ because of  the need for assistance. He reports on an exciting  project where steps were taken to enable ‘elder’s to stay in their own homes but with input at various different levels, negotiated with the elders themselves.

Undoubtedly, many of the points which he makes, especially in relation to the  meaning which may attach to apparently small things in a home, such as the marks on a door jamb which show the changing heights of the children in the family over the years, have implications too for the ‘grown-up’ children, as they consider the many factors involved in decision-making around having parents stay in their own home or not.

A point which also arises here is the extent to which it is very often only after elderly parents have moved out of home, either to go to some form of  long-term care facility or when they have died that the ‘children’ actually ‘unearth’ aspects of their parents lives that they found unexpected. For example, in my own case, I found that my Father had safely kept all the letters which I had sent home while I was abroad studying. I would never have imagined that he would have ‘treasured’ these, as he appeared to.

So part of  ‘coping with losing elderly parents’ may well involve much emotion around decsions about how feasible it is for them to stay in their own homes, especially if their safety is at issue. Also, the experience of sorting  through belongings, particularly when parents have passed, may well reveal insights into one’s parents lives that one wishes one could have shared with them.

Posted February 14th, 2011

 

SECTION SEVEN

AGEING PROJECTIONS FOR IRELAND

The Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland (www.cardi.ie) projects that there will be a rise in the number of people aged 85+ in Ireland from 74,000 in 2006 to 356,000 in 2041. This is almost a five-fold increase.

Clearly, these figures indicate that there also be a significant rise in the numbers of people  losing ‘elderly parents’ in the coming decades.

Posted 15th February, 2011

SECTION EIGHT

CARING FOR YOUR PARENTS IN THEIR SENIOR YEARS

I was given a very interesting book recently, Caring for Your Parents in Their Senior Years: A Guide for Grown-up Children.  It was written by William Molloy and published in 1998 by Firefly Books: New York.

William Molloy is a geriatrician, from Co. Waterford, Ireland but he wrote the book while he was working in Canada.  Both his parents died during the writing of the book and it combines both his personal experience and his professional guidance on how grown-up children can help their parents.

Caring for Your Parents in their Senior Years is said to be the first book on aging written expressly for children who want to help their elderly parents.

Even though it was written in 1998, it does not come across anything like as dated as one might expect.

Posted 12/3/2011

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 SECTION NINE

‘YOU’LL GET OVER IT

THE RAGE OF BEREAVEMENT

 

Virgina Ironside’s (1996)  book,  ‘You’ll Get Over It: The Rage of Bereavement, caught my attention, firstly because of its rather curious title and, secondly, because I saw she had written it after the death of her father.

Published by Penguin, this relatively slim paperback is one of those books that I doubt I will ever forget because of  the way in which it captures the range of emotions associated with bereavement. It is also unusual in that the author makes it very clear that she is not offering answers or advice. Rather, she says that her hope is that the reader will find reassurance that ‘even in your craziest, most evil, most charmless, most miserable moments, you are not alone. That is, no more, no less, the sum total of what I can offer. But to feel a little less alone at a time when your loneliness is probably acute – well that is something.’ (p. xxiii).

I suspect that no two people who read Virginia Ironside’s book  would identify the same set of points as having been of interest, or indeed benefit, to them. For that reason, I would recommend that people read her book for themselves as there is such a wealth of material about reactions to death buried within it.

For me, there were a number of themes which she addressed which I found to be particularly interesting. First, her point that writing about her father’s death was something which she found useful in terms of trying to overcome the helpless feelings. As she put it, ‘…although not the architect of my father’s death, (I) was at least in the powerful position of being its chronicler (p.38).

Second,  was her reference to Lawrence Whistler’s account of his wife’s life and death in which he addressed that extent to which what was unendurable for him was precisely the idea of coming through the suffering associated with his loss.  Summed up: ‘If she faded altogether, I thought, that would be the real goodbye; whereas grieving was only loving in another key.’ (p. 79)

Third, was Ironside’s discussion of Ursula Bowlby, writing about the death of her husband, the psychologist, John Blowby, and about the death of her mother, at the age of eighty-eight. Of the latter, Ursula Bowlby wrote: ‘ I had spent my life dreading losing her, yet when she died I felt her safe in my heart, and free – free from the disabilities of old age. She is still in my heart. The two people I most dreaded losing are not lost to me.’

Fourth, was her point that the shock of death makes everything vivid, and we often feel much more aware of out emotions than we normally do, feel strangely present in a world in which we normally act like robots. Our senses may become acute, and since laughter and tears are good bedfellows, it’s not particularly surprising that a certain hilarity often prevails, particularly during the days of shock, around the funeral.

Fifth, Ironside argues that the death of a parent brings us to new places. She says that our role in society may be just as secure as it was before, but we suffer our own particular kinds of internal loneliness, and find our interior furniture completely upside down. ‘Losing a parent means you lose your home and your centre.  However much of a home you may have created for your family, in one sense, for you, your home is always where your parents are. Now that home is gone. The hub of your life has gone. The centre of your life has vanished, and often, feeling only a child inside, you may have to take on the role of family centre yourself.’ (p. 145).

Sixth, Virgina Ironside, while arguing that death is not a gift or a harvest, nor does it enrich, claims that ‘it certainly teaches us a lesson.’  Writing about her own demise, she  says that she hopes that she dies young enough for her son to experience what it is like to live without parents for  a good part of his life. ‘ He may find that death drives him to church or to suicide; to become cynical; to love the present more; to become depressed; to become more his own man; to realise that he can actually do without me, in reality, not in imagination. He may find life sweeter, he may find life crueler. Whatever, and however, he lives life, it will almost certainly be truer.’ (p.170).

Mary Loudon in The Times, said of Virginia Ironside’s book: ‘It is rich in ideas and consistently clear…painfully honest, sensible and kind…a very good book.’  I couldn’t agree more and would add that it is dotted with unexpected humour and wit. I too would highly recommend it, for everyone in view of our own inevitable mortality and so that we can develop a greater understanding of the emotions that surround death,  in ourselves, others and in society as a whole.

Posted March 3, 2011

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SECTION TEN

MOTHER’S DAY, 2011

Where else would I go on my first Mother’s Day as a parentless child but out to Annestown. Last year I spent my early morning time with Dad, but this year I’m back in our old haunt remembering all those times we came here, on holidays, for a swim,  a paddle,  or just for a drive. Always the cuppa in the straw basket!

The first Sea Pinks have come into full bloom, just at the steps down to the beach. Also, the white horse was in the field; no swans in the river though. But then the white horse came down to the beach – a happy girl riding him. Thoughts of you in the Ponies’ Wood.

Memories of how you always wanted to go for your own ‘little walk,’ thinking I suspected, of times growing up or days when you and Dad brought us here as kids.

I’m planning to go for a swim. I can hear you saying:

 Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

                         old time he is a flying;

                         and that same flower that blooms today,

                         tomorrow may be dying.

Mother’s Day and I’d arrive with a present knowing that your, ‘Ah Mother’s Day is only a cod!,’ didn’t really mean that you wanted nothing.

Now it’s me who is ‘Mother.’ I don’t want that role all to myself. I want to be ‘daughter’ too.

I took one stone from the beach – the colour of your hair – ‘burnished gold.’ The sea was all sorts of colours – mainly silver, but golden shades are there in the stone, the gorse, daffodils,  celandines and dandelions.

Dad would have been in his element today with his camera. The sun came out, but more importantly, big white fluffy clouds are reflecting on the sand;  drawing  past, present and, I suppose, future together.

It feels calm being here, listening to the crows, and watching them building their nests in the trees at the entrance to the beach. I can’t but think of that day out with Dad, when I shot the crow or, at least was a party to shooting the crow. You understood how terrible I felt. The shock of it!

We never talked about how Mother’s Day would be without a mother. We never talked about lots of things but maybe we didn’t need to. I’m certain that you’d love it here today. I know you’d be saying, ‘Now go for your swim and don’t have Harry worrying about you.’

            He misses you too in all the little ways that you and I often talked about.

It’s never the big things, is it? Just the fleeting memories – your blue towel that you used for swimming; your love of gorse; the moon; that smile when we’d come in, ‘Oh hello,’ like as if you hadn’t seen us for years; your urgings not to forget to put the plate over the trifle after I’d poured the custard over the sponge; the importance of ‘eye appeal’ and the sprig of parsley; the first primrose; your hug when I told you I was pregnant. Or what about Mother’s Hour – back when I’d interrupt you listening to it on Radio 4 when I’d come in from school and you’d always switch it off; then Mother’s Hour when we’d chat at 11.30 – always things to talk about, always comfortable silences, knowing where the other was.

I’m headed in for the swim. I’ll see you walking along the beach, paddling, where possible.  I’ll see you up on the cliff, keeping an eye on me” I’ll hear you say: ‘You looked so happy in there. It must have been nice.’  I’ll hear you say, ‘Do you remember the time…?’

Yes, Mother, I do.

Posted April 3, 2011

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 SECTION ELEVEN

THE OTHER SIDE OF SADNESS

 I have just finished reading The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss, by George Bonanno.  This book, which was published in 2009 (Basic Books:New York), is very thought-provoking and certainly challenges many of the views which have long been held about coping with loss.

            Bonanno, who is a Professor of Clinical Psychology in New York,  emphasises the capacity of humans to thrive in the face of adversity and thus, ‘natural resilience’ is a key theme running throughout the book.  Bonanno’s central claim is that while some people suffer from chronic grief, and others experience a more gradual recovery, ‘the good news is that for most of us, grief is not overwhelming or unending.’

            Bonanno has developed his theory using careful scientific research, using both large samples and longitudinal studies, as well as more in-depth qualitative approaches.

There were a number of specific points in the book which I found particularly interesting in the context of my reading about, and personal experience of, losing elderly parents.

Chapter Three, ‘Sadness and Laughter,’ was a key chapter for me. In this, Bonanno stresses that sadness, like every emotion, is transient and highlights the point that it will pass, even though we may feel differently when engulfed by it:

Although when we feel sad, it may seem as if our sadness will last forever, in actuality, by definition, all emotions are ephemeral – that is they are short-term reactions to the immediate demands on us, usually lasting only a few seconds and at the most a few hours.’ (p. 33)

With regard to smiling and laughter, Bonanno claims that what really matters in terms of our long-term health, is the ability to crack a grin when the chips are down. He makes the point that there is a world of difference between a sincere and a false smile. Sincere laughing and smiling ‘give us a temporary respite from the pain of loss; they allow us to come up for air, to breathe.’  

He also notes that his  research shows that  bereaved people who are able to laugh or smile while discussing their loss evoke more positive emotion and less frustration in others than do people who cannot laugh or smile.

Bonanno writes about the complexities which can surround the sense of relief when someone close dies.  He notes that those who have been caregivers, in  contrast to those who show a more straightforward kind of resilience, do not tend to find comfort in memories of the deceased, at least not at first. However, their initial relief changes over time with clam setting in and it becomes easier to find comfort in the more joyous memories of the lost loved one.

Bonanno writes very openly about his response to the death of his own father, when he was 26 years old. He categorises it as one of ‘relief’ but writes at length about how he experienced this and the manner in which it was far from representing a simple ‘release.’

In the final chapter ‘ Thriving in the Face of Adversity’,  Bonanno  draws upon a bereavement study which spanned 35 years. He writes that it shows how many aspects of bereavement fade only gradually and intense reactions may still be felt, especially on key days, such as anniversaries, years and years on. He also notes how common it is for bereaved people to worry that they will forget their loved one, and lose track of their memories, even years after a loved one’s death.

Overall, Bonanno’s book, though at the outset seeming to be almost overly optimistic about our ability to cope with loss, displays a sensitivity, empathy and hope, which render it very manageable as it challenges so many of the traditional beliefs around loss and bereavement. For me, the following extract, is one of the most memorable in a book which I would definitely recommend to those who are coping with losing elderly parents:

Not everybody manages well, but most of us do. And some of us it seems, can deal with just about anything. We adapt, we change gears, we smile and laugh and do what we need to do, we nurture our memories, we tell ourselves it is not as bad as we thought, and before we know it, what once seemed bleak and bottomless has given way; the dark recedes and the sun again peeks out from behind the clouds.’ (p.81)

Posted April 30th, 2011

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Section 12

QUESTIONING IDENTITY

 Personal Connections with Alzheimer’s Disease

 Abstract of Paper Presented

 at

 Annual Conference of the Sociological Association of Ireland

 May 7th, 2011

 

This paper has emerged from my experience over the last six years in taking on the role of ‘carer’ of my elderly parents. In that sense, it follows in the tradition of Julius Roth’s (1963) classic, Timetables, in which he used his experience as a TB patient to explore the structuring of time in hospital careers.

            The particular issue which I address is the way in which identities are challenged by perceptions of  Alzheimer’s Disease and dementias as forms of ‘social death’.

My experience, particularly with my father, who had a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease,  was one in which I was, in a sense, a participant observer, in the dynamic surrounding the attempted unravelling of both his identity as ‘father’ and mine as ‘daughter.’

The infantalisation of people with Alzheimer’s Disease is the dominant response to what are perceived as the trappings of ‘babyhood’: for example, incontinence pads/nappies; wheelchairs/buggies; repetitive speech/baby-talk.

A key consequence of this pervasive response is actions based on a perception of role reversal within families. Thus, the ‘father’ is perceived as the child while the ‘daughter’ is perceived as the ‘parent’.

My lived experience with my father strongly suggests that there is a very different paradigm within which people with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementias can be perceived. This is one in which the emphasis is on maintaining ‘connection’ with the individual and the continuities within his/her social identity. This is an approach which is very much advocated within the work of cultural anthropologist, Dr. Phil Stafford of the Center for Aging and Community inIndianaas well as by Memory Bridge Foundation, founded in theUSin 2004.

Within this paradigm, Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia are not viewed as an ‘ending’ and the focus is on the capacity of people with Alzheimer’s Disease  and related dementias to maintain emotionally meaningful relationships. Taking this approach, identities remain intact but what alter are modes of communication. Thus, ‘father’ and ‘daughter’ may communicate using social ‘memory bridges’ such as poetry, music, photography, food, and touch, as well as ‘conversation.’

Like Julius Roth, I would argue that what may seem like ‘time out’ from sociology can indeed provide us with opportunities to become immersed in social contexts which not only change our own perspective but provide us with knowledge to stimulate thought and action in relation to key areas of social life.

Jean Tubridy, PhD

www.socialbridge.ie

 Posted May 9th, 2011

 

SECTION THIRTEEN

MAY MEMORIES BLOSSOM

It is not very surprising that many people lose both their elderly parents in a relatively short space of time.  So often, it seems that those who have lived long lives in a close bond find it difficult to battle on when their partner dies. Obviously, there is also the fact that  for many people who are in their late 80s or their 90s, there are likely to be various age-related illnesses at play which leave them vulnerable, especially when faced with the loss of their spouse.

Although one hears about such cases, there seems to be relatively little written about the impact on grown-up children of losing both parents within a short space of time.

I find myself writing about this now because of the fact that my mother’s second anniversary is looming.  I feel very conscious of the fact that because I was so taken up with caring for my father who outlived her by 16 months, that I essentially ‘set aside’ grieving for Mother in order to focus on my father’s needs.

It was with the onset of May this year that I became very aware  a whole host of aspects of ‘nature,’ in particular , which I associate very much with Mother. The lengthening evenings and the bursting forth of rhododendrons, carpets of bluebells and sea pinks. Also,  high tides and soft sunsets, in which the sun and moon seem very much at one with each other. The luscious greening of the fields and the sight, once again, of young foals, calves and lambs out grazing – never too far away from their mothers.

Last May I found myself trying to write a ‘memoir’ of Mother but interestingly, while I had no difficulty writing about both her youth and her old age and death, I found myself unable to write about the years in between – in other words, the years in which she became a young mother herself  up to the point when I became a mother myself.

So many memories come to me now, not so much chronologically, of shared times which she and I had.  There was the first time that I was abroad. That was when I was almost seventeen and hadn’t been very well. Mother decided on a whim that she would take me to Spain for a week in the sun for a ‘rest cure.’ It was a huge adventure for both of us and, for the first time,  we were more like sisters than mother and daughter. We felt that we had ‘discovered’ beautiful Mijas up in the mountains and I still have one of the embroidered pillow cases that she bought that day and which invariably sparked a nostalgic chat about that holiday when she would be ironing it. We would laugh over the way the Spanish men in the shops flirted with us both as we ambled around the resort in the evenings. ‘Ah,  they wouldn’t have been like that if Dad had been around!’  She would smile in agreement:  her warm, true smile.

When I first started school, she used to collect me everyday on her bicycle. She would cycle to the school and then on the way home I’d sit up on the saddle and she would push the bike. It was a bicycle that she had had since she was in her teens and I ended up using it when I went to university. It is in retirement now, out in our garden shed but it is a bike that has travelled through many, many decades and counties of Ireland.

Mother had a grand theory that if one could play tennis to any sort of reasonable standard, it would be like a passport to getting to know people anywhere. When I was three, we lived in a house very near the tennis club and Mother used to bring us three kids down through the hole in the hedge at the bottom of our garden to the grass courts where she taught us the rudiments of the game.  For her, tennis was all about enjoyment and she instilled an absolute love of the game in me. Her patience as a ‘coach’ was amazing as she would hit ball after ball to us with her wooden racquet.

Later, I went on to play a good deal of competitive tennis and one of my lasting memories was coming home after a ‘big’ win to find that she had put a ‘red carpet’ out on the gravel to welcome me. The fact that it was around midnight made the carpet seem all the softer!

Reading, writing and words were fundamental to Mother’s whole being. She would have loved to have been a journalist but her hopes were dashed by the fact the Second World War commenced just at the point when she was having to make career decisions and journalism didn’t seem to be an option. Notwithstanding that, she wrote to a very high standard and had numerous articles published and broadcast at national level.  My happiest memories of her love of words were the nightly stories she would read to me and the word games we would play, especially making up rhymes.

In later years, when I was living in my bedsit in Dublin, she would come and stay with me.  Being back in a flat seemed to bring her back to her own ‘single’ days and we would end up chatting half the night with the light off. She would be in my bed – my big gesture to her being ‘mother’ and I would sleep on a mattress on the floor. She revelled in the business of having to manage in the tiny room which had only a two ringed hob for cooking and with sharing  a bathroom with about 6 other residents in the house.

By far the best part of my graduation from College was having Mother come to stay for the preparations. She also stayed with me in the flat when we went ‘hunting’ for clothes to wear at my wedding.

This weekend 16 years ago is etched in my memory as it was the weekend before my only child was born – Mother’s seventh grandchild. My husband and I went for a drive out along the coast that Sunday and saw Mother and Dad’s car parked. We stopped and looked in over the ditch where there was a little nook overlooking the vast expanse of the glistening sea.  There they were, sitting side by side on small deckchairs, in among the sea pinks and surrounded by heavily scented gorse. As usual they had the old wicker basket with them, with the inevitable thermos flask wrapped in a flowery tea towel, and were drinking tea and eating biscuits. The sun was blazing but nothing was warmer than the smiles that greeted us.

 Posted May 19th, 2011.

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Section  Fourteen

Sunflowers: Anniversary Reactions

In my earlier discussion of George Bonanno’s book, The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells us About Life After Loss, I drew attention to his description of  what he terms, ‘anniversary reactions.’  In his chapter on Thriving in the Face of Adversity, he says that these common reactions  ‘occur anytime a bereaved person experiences a dramatic increase in sadness or loneliness on the anniversary of an important date related to the loss.’ 

Today is one of those days on which I have felt an ‘anniversary reaction’ in very real terms in relation to the loss of my father last  September.  Today would have been his 92nd birthday and it is also 9 months to the day since he died.  I find myself both thinking and writing about him and the dominant theme for all sorts of reasons is ‘sunflowers.’

SUNFLOWERS

His eyes shone with tears when he saw me arriving with the big bunch of sunflowers. ‘I don’t know whether I’m laughing or crying,’ he said, wiping his now 91-year-old face that looked as handsome as ever to me.

The evening before I got married, he called me aside and told me he wanted to give me a small present. It was his collection of leather-bound art books that he had kept beside his bed for years in his special bookcase.  Every night he would chose one of the art books just before bed and line it up with a novel, a book of humour, a business magazine and that day’s newspaper. How often would we find him asleep in the morning with his glasses falling down on his long nose and one of the art books open on a colourful picture?

He wrote to me just once and that was shortly before my boyfriend died, when I was twenty-three. He had written with a fountain pen, in dark blue ink, and each page was like a work of art, displaying his passion for calligraphy.  He told me in that letter how regrets were the most difficult things to bear and he finished up by saying that I was to know that he and Mother would always be there with shoulders to cry on and lean on.

Walking, half-running, home with him after our school’s Christmas Concert when I was 7, I told him that the girls in my class had voted him the best looking man there. ‘Did they now?’ he asked with a touch of a smile.

Out in the dewy garden, I’ve just been checking my seed trays. Yes, the sunflowers have burst through over night, their perfectly formed fresh green leaves promising big yellow blooms. I’m looking at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers from August 1888. I have to agree, ‘It’s a beauty.’

His presence is all around today, June 10th, Dad’s birthday.  I know I won’t be running down to him, clutching sunflowers for his 92nd birthday, but I hope he’s found a comfortable deckchair where he can lean back, soak up the sun and ponder on a life well spent.

Posted June 10, 2011

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SECTION FIFTEEN

REFLECTIONS ON FATHER’S ANNIVERSARY

Ballycotton, Co. Cork lured me back. Somehow, I just had to be there for Dad’s first anniversary, September 10th, 2011.

Driving down the Waterford -Cork road, the mist was getting thicker but then when I drove into Ballycotton, past Paradise – the old bathing place  – and Cliff Palace – the old dancehall –  and on up to the cliff, the sun came bursting through.  A quick glance at the clock – 10:57 am. Just the time, I had glanced at it when I had got the phonecall to say that he had died. 10/57 – October 1957 – the year I was born.

Tears flowed but I could hear him saying: ‘Here’s a hankie, child. Now,  go off and enjoy yourself while the sun is out.’  I had his camera bag beside me; looking a bit scruffy now that I’ve had it for a year but it reminds me so much of him.  I don’t know how long he’d had it but it defintiely goes  back to the Drogheda days and has a lovely  worn softness to it. The khaki colour is very close to  the colour of his eyes. I’m certain that never entered his head when he bought it!

Last time I was in Ballycotton was July 2010. While I was walking along the cliffs, he had got up – Lazarus-like  – to watch his native Clare playing his adopted Waterford in the hurling championship. Waterford won but he enjoyed every minute of it.  He never went to the drawing room again or watched another match but it seems so right that it was Clare and Waterford – with Waterfod managed by Clareman, Davy Fitzgerald,  that he was watching.

Cliffs were places he was almost reared on – Kilkee’s West End was where he spent endless summers as a child and teenager. He never said ‘be careful’ to me when I was heading off to take photos on cliffs or asked how on earth did I get that one of the steepest of steep drops. He just knew! And he knew there was no point nagging about it – I was home safe and anyway, hadn’t he brought me along enough cliffs as a child to give me instruction on how not to fall over. I don’t think anyone else in the world would have been so much in favour of this expedition as he would have been.

The Cliffs, Ballycotton, Co. Cork

And, what’s more he would have loved to have been with me – walking single file each with our own thoughts but sharing the beauty and knowing that the other was blissfully happy.  Of course, he would have been taking the photographs, not me. Only room for one photographer in our house!

My mind slipped back to the time I went out with him in 1987 when I had broken my leg. He was taking photos on the Cliff Road in Tramore and had disappeared over an edge.  I was leaning on my my crutches waiting for him and happily looking down at the waves crashing against the rocks far below. A car pulled up beside me; man let’s down window and calls out: ‘Ah don’t even think about it, Love!  It could be worse.’  I wondered what he would have said to Dad if he had seen where he was – tripod all rigged up and him standing with a sheer drop just inches away from him. Father had roared laughing when I had told him about ‘yer man’s’ comment when he finally re-emerged looking very pleased with himself. The clouds had taken their time but it should be well worth the wait. ‘Tricky spot, though and really you’d want a young boy to be carrying the tripod and the second camera bag for you!’

What a difference between July and September!  The sea had a hazy look, not the sharp blue of summer,  and the landscape was transformed. The lush green fields had turned to golden brown ~ harvested.  Briars that I had been pushing out of my way were leaning towards me offering the fruits of their year – big juicy blackberries.  Keats’ Ode to Autumn came back to me:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Cliff  Walk, Ballycotton, Co. Cork

Ballycotton Lighthouse, out on its island just past the harbour, which had been so clear against a blue, blue sky that July, seemed determined to stay out of focus in a slight mist but all round it there was circle of bright waves against the dark rocks. How black the rocks are here compared the the reddish tones along the Copper Coast.  I think of Dad’s advice,  ‘ bide your time and the light will come right eventually.’

The gulls that had been shrieking and calling in July were silent now, gliding in the wind; soaring up to meet the sun and swooping right down, camougflaged at times by the colour of the wild waves.

I’m suddenly in the  the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin with Mother and Dad, when I was about nine. That was the first time I had heard ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ and I couldn’t understand why Mother was crying.  Ballycotton Cliffs are anything but white and I begin to think of a conversation I had with Mother in her later years about poetry.  Somewhat to my surprise,  she said that The White Birds was her favourite Yeats’ poem. It came as an even greater surprise to me to find in the months after Mother’s death that The White Birds was also one of Dad’s all time favourite poems as well.

The White Birds

by: W.B. Yeats

I would that we were, my beloved, white birds on the foam of the sea!

We tire of the flame of the meteor, before it can fade and flee;

And the flame of the blue star of twilight, hung low on the rim of the sky,

Has awakened in our hearts, my beloved, a sadness that may not die.

A weariness comes from those dreamers, dew-dabbled, the lily and rose;

Ah, dream not of them, my beloved, the flame of the meteor that goes,

Or the flame of the blue star that lingers hung low in the fall of the dew:

For I would we were changed to white birds on the wandering foam: I and you!

I am haunted by numberless islands, and many a Danaan shore,

Where Time would surely forget us, and Sorrow come near us no more;

Soon far from the rose and the lily, and fret of the flames would we be,

Were we only white birds, my beloved, buoyed out on the foam of the sea!

Somehow seeing the gulls flying so serenely, I had a sense that  Father and Mother were indeed re-united  at some level.  The sight also drew me back to a note I’d received from a friend about Father’s anniversary:

‘ We grieve for ourselves not for the ones we lost….. Your Dad was 91 years  old and he and your mother,  I’m sure, had seen almost everything they wanted together. Your Father doesn’t want you to be unhappy so why are you making him feel sad …..

Back down in Ballycotton village, I had to go see the harbour. Harbours have never been the same for me since I read Cicero’s lines on ageing and death in his inspirational book, On a Life Well Spent:

‘… the nearer I draw to my end, it seems like discovering the land at sea, that, after the tossings of a tedious and stormy voyage, will yield me a safe and quiet harbour.’

Even though I had been to Ballycotton on numerous occasions, this was the first time that I became fully conscious of the many harbour walls that look like comforting arms safely securing the trawlers and boats:

The Harbour, Ballycotton, Co. Cork

As the evening drew in I felt Father’s determination bubbling up inisde me –  could this be the moment to catch a clear photograph of the Lighthouse?   The beacon had started flashing. Here was a whole new challenge!  This is where Father’s oft quoted theory about the need for lifelong learning came to life yet again.

Ballycotton Lighthouse, Co. Cork

While I’m trying to take this shot, I smile when I remember the guide at Hook Head Lighthouse telling us that all lighthouses are unique and have different timings and colours.  ‘Just like parents,’  I think to myself.  At that moment, I see that the moon, Mother’s ‘oldest friend, ‘  as Dad always jokingly described it,  has come out to take over from the setting sun and to keep the lighthouse company.

 Posted on September 13th, 2011

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SECTION SIXTEEN

IRISH HOSPICE FOUNDATION

WORKSHOPS ON LOSS AND BEREAVEMENT

Given my interest in the whole issue of ‘losing elderly parents,’ I was drawn to a day-long workshop entitled: Intimations of Mortality: Death and Bereavement in Old Age, which I heard was being run by the Irish Hospice Foundation in Nassau St. Dublin  as part of its 2012 series of Workshops on Loss and Bereavement. www.hospice-foundation.ie

Having looked at the Programme of Workshops, I decided to attend both this workshop, which was presented by Marianne McGriffin, and a second one that was on the following day: Communicating in Difficult Circumstances – A Workshop for Non-Clinical Staff, presented by Dr. Susan Delaney.

The overall experience of attending the two Workshops was extremely stimulating, informative, thought-provoking, comfortable and comforting in the broadest terms.

My intention here is not to go into the detail of the content of the Workshops but to highlight the fact there is a whole programme of workshops being run by the Irish Hospice Foundation  as part of its very significant educational programme.

I was extremely impressed by the way in which both presenters were so well-informed and well-prepared and had such a genuine interest in their particular subject areas. While their styles differed somewhat, both had a wonderful ability to  embrace the sensitivities and difficulties associated with their subject areas. What might have been two rather dark days dealing with dying, death, loss and grief ended up being uplifting experiences during which there was plenty of laughter as well as a strong sense of  hope and emphasis on human resilience.

In the days since I have attended the Workshops, many issues that were raised by both the presenters and participants have been giving me lots of food for thought and I am certain that this will continue over the next weeks and months as I reflect back on the days as well as work through the useful hand-outs and reading lists that were provided.

It was clear from talking to the other participants that they found the Workshops as useful as I did, even if for very different reasons,  and it came as no surprise to hear that many had already attended previous workshops in the Programme over the last few years. I can say without hesitation that I have already identified a number which I have no intention of missing!

 Posted: 6th March, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

132 thoughts on “Losing Elderly Parents”

    1. I appreciate your comment very much. Yes, I think Mother played a very significant role in terms of passing on her love of words and she was always so encouraging about all my writing efforts.

  1. I enjoyed reading all the entries especially the one on Mothers Day 2011, you capture the Love that you have and had for your Mom & Dad..quite a tribute..

  2. Jean,
    I just read your latest post. I lost both my mother-in-law and my mother two months apart, just a few months before my first child was born when I was 23 years old. I have wondered how different my relationship with my mother would have been if she had lived long enough for us to relate to each other as two mothers. I always wished my kids could have known the love of their grandmothers – or at least one of their grandmothers, but they never got to see either of them.
    Your photos here are beautiful, and your words make me think that I really need to do more writing about my own family memories. When my mother was still living, I had no idea that she also enjoyed writing. When I was collecting obituaries for my genealogical research, an older cousin told me my mother had written my great-grandmother’s (the one who was born in County Down, Ireland) obituary. I can see from the obituary that my mother shared my love of writing. Too bad I didn’t know that while she was still living.

    1. Hi Charlotte, I am ashamed to say that I have only just seen this comment now and would like to thank you very much for writing so appreciatively.

      I’m sorry that you didn’t have the chance to have a lot more time to share with your mother. I certainly think I saw my mother differently when I had my own child.

      I hope, too, that you have managed to do a lot more writing meanwhile, jxxx

  3. Thank you very much for your comment. I’m so pleased you feel the information is useful. I agree that ‘Losing Elederly Parents’ is a topic deserves a lot more attention than it tends to get, in the public domain anyway.

  4. It’s great that you had a wonderful relationship with your parents and that they had a good death. Unfortunately it is not the same for everybody. Elderly die after hospital neglicence and indifference. Home carers can be overwhelmed and unable to cope because of lack of education and lack of support. The carer can be left with feelings of guilt and continuing lack of support from family after the death.

    1. Thank you very much for your comment. I fully agree that I was particularly fortunate to have such a good relationship with my parents and I am more than aware that many parents and grown-up children suffer considerably when the parents become frail and in need of support. My hope is that, at least by raising the issues, that the situation will be improved and that there will be far more planning put in place for end-of-life care and support for our ageing population and their grown-up children.

      I would say that, in my case, I took a very conscious decision to be there for my parents. It was by no means an easy journey but I have would do it all again, if the clock were turned back.

      Best wishes,

      Jean

  5. i lost my parents who were in their eighties 10 months apart. i have been in intense grief ever since . your words have been very touching and healing. you cannot believe how vulneable you feel until it happens. i was fifty years old and felt like a child.

  6. As I grieve both my parents at age 63… Dad (93) in March of this year and Mom (87) three weeks ago today, your words are comforting. In my deep sadness I am so grateful for the time I spent with each of them prior to each passing. Everything was said that needed to be said and love was overflowing if not even overwhelming at times.

    I was with Dad for three weeks before he passed and had to return home to California for a few days before I went back… He passed away early in the morning of the day I was flying back, but I had no regrets. I was able to go back and help my Mom through her grief over the next three weeks.

    I had the exquisite honor and privilege to accompany Mom on her journey home over the two weeks before she made her transition, and wouldn’t have traded that time with her for the world. After all, it was she that gave me life into this world and it was certainly appropriate for me to be the one to escort her home.

    After cleaning out their home which was a very difficult task, I eagerly await some of their prized possessions, which I shipped home. I am an orphan now (we lost my sister nine years ago) and through my grief and gratitude, I can still see ever so slight glimpses of sweetness and growth!

  7. Maris,

    My deepest symapathy on losing both your parents this year. I am glad that you have found some comfort in my writing and hope that you will gradually start to see even more glimpses of the sweetness and growth that you mention.

    With warm wishes,

    Jean

  8. May this season of Christmas promise and joy be a blessing to all of those whose words find their way upon this most welcomed page…….Judy

  9. Dear Jean,

    This is beautiful writing, and it resonates with my own personal experience a great deal. Two years ago I lost both of my parents within a four month period of time, which inspired me to write a series entitled “On the Loss of My Parents.” Like you, I have started on a new journey. I will be following your work and look forward to future articles.

    Kind regards,
    Brian

    1. Brian, many thanks for writing and for your kind comments. It is very good of you to bring your writings on your experiences here as I think there is a great need for more insight into the whole experience and range of emotion associated with losing elderly parents.

  10. Thank you, this is a wonderful post and and pertinent to many I know. We all have many kinds of losses which feel as painful as a death. Sometimes we lose our parents in other ways, aspects of themselves. It makes it all the more sad to me knowing full well that it is not how life was meant to be; and that it could so easily be changed. But that’s a much longer story. We were meant to live to about 120 in good health and quietly pass, not to suffer from illness. Thank you also for visiting my pages. With blessings to you.

    1. Hello Dawn, thanks very much for writing and for your kind words. Yes, I agree that losing parents can be associated with all sorts of avenues as well as death. I was lucky to have my parents for as long as I did and to lose them in such a ‘natural’ way.
      I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  11. indeed I am now unfortunately in this situation as well so reading a lot on this topic. Life is strange and who knew I would be like this ?

    Great to see a blog like this

    1. Hi David, thanks for your kind words and I’m sorry to hear that you are in the situation of losing your parent/s. It’s a tough road but I think there are ways to make it less stressful for all concerned so that the precious moments can be appreciated to the full. Do keep in touch.

      1. I will socialbridge. You know the thing you mentioned makes a lot of sense in that if the gap between the departure of the parents is not a lot e.g. less than 5 years then really one is grieving for both parents. I believe in your case it was 1 year so I really see what you meant. In any case I am happy that writing about their younger days makes it better I will do that too if it helps me. I’m just talking in my room to them as if they are sitting on the chair. I seem to just now accepting that Dad is not with me. It has taken me 3 years to get there. But for me the other parent is still there. On the chair I mentioned. So in denial mode.

  12. Hi,

    Thanks so much for the recent blog follow and the like of my post, “Anatomy of a blog post.” It led me to your interesting blog, which I am now following.

    I am especially interested in this section on “Losing elderly parents.” I lost my Dad 10 years ago this summer. I can finally think about him without a lot of sadness. My dear Mom is 91 years old and I am her caretaker. I treasure every moment with her since I know she may not be with me for much longer.

    Thank you for writing about such a timely topic.

    Regards,
    Nancy

    1. Hello Nancy, thanks for writing and I’m glad that you have found this section useful. I’m so glad that you can think of your father now without a lot of sadness and that you have the chance to treasure every moment with your mother.
      Do keep in touch,
      jean

  13. Thank you for your writings, they have helped me. Both my parents died 11 months from each other. I was their caregiver. I have four other siblings. I feel shaken and still have not recovered from losing them. Will my grief last longer than my brothers and sisters? I am still at loss. My mother passed August 2009 and my father July 2010.

    1. Hello Cindy, I’m very sorry to hear of your parent’s deaths and of the sadness you clearly feel.
      I don’t know that there are any black and white answers to the questions you ask. So much depends on every individual’s circumstances.
      The one thing that jumps out at me from what you have written is how July and August are anniversary months for you and no doubt you are feeling the intensity of the grief all the more at this time.
      The timing of your parents deaths is very much the same as that of my own mother and father and I definitely think I deferred a lot of the grieving for Mother, who died in 2009, until after Father had died in September 2010. At the time, it seemed more important to concentrate on Father and his needs but the grieving for Mother still had to be done. Consequently, it feels like the period since Father died is not very long ago at all.
      Re the caregiver aspect, I think that there can be bigger changes in the life of the caregiver after parents’ die than for those who were less involved. This is especially so if your whole routine revolved around your parents rather than some other form of work/employment. There is such a strong sense of being ‘needed’ as a caregiver and there can be a sense of that being lost when loved ones die. On the other hand, adult children who aren’t caregivers can also have very significant grief especially if they were able for whatever reason to be with their parents in their last years.
      I don’t even know if we can compare grief experiences ~ as each death is so unique.

      I don’t think that grief is something that ever ‘goes away’ but I tend to view it as something which we can make more positive than the raw sense of misery that it often is at the beginning. For me, a big turning point was when I did some writing about my parents in their younger days. This brought me back to what were happier times that didn’t have the trappings of illness and frailty associated with them.

      Obviously, though, I still have times when I miss them hugely and wish that I could share special moments with them.

      I hope this is of some use. Your question still has me thinking!

  14. For me it was harder seeing my dad suffer in the seven years before he died. He’d gone from a lively, funny man who had an interest in everything to a shrunken, figure…not even a shadow of his former self. I knew he would hate to be like this although he couldn’t communicate it at the time. In a way it was a relief (that sounds very harsh but if you’d have seen him you’d know what I mean) when he died as I knew he wasn’t in pain anymore.

    1. Hi Magnumlady, I don’t see your relief at knowing your father was out of pain as harsh at all. In fact, I can more than understand it. I feel that ‘Losing Elderly Parents’ is about far more than the moment of death and beyond as the last few years of life can be very tough indeed both for the parent, his/her spouse, grown-up children and a host of other people too.

    2. It is really the same magnumlady for me. It was harder seeing Dad suffer for 7 years and he was a shadow of his personality. So yes relief can sometimes offset some of the grief. I felt the same; he was really unable to do a thing you know. So it was a lot of grief but quite relieved as well. I also put off some of the grief as my focus became my mother.

      Socialbridge hope you are fine.

      1. Hi David, thanks for writing and sympathies on your father’s death. I think, especially, as grown -up kids we have to defer some of our grieving to focus on the surviving parent. It certainly isn’t easy for him/her losing a lifelong partner. I have to say, though, that in my case, I felt very fortunate to have those last 16 months with my father (after Mother died) as we were so much there for each other and it made his death much easier for me than I would have expected. Even though he had memory issues, he remained very much ‘Dad’ to me and I think he greatly appreciated having me to talk to and reminisce with about Mother ~ very often it was tiny, tiny things that probably no one else could have remembered but they were what he wanted to talk about and I’m very glad that we had that time, for both our sakes.

  15. So happy for you social bridge. I really feel you did well. With me I am just starting to grieve over Dad. What I also realize that many here have lost the parents within 12-16 months. So no real gap. That can be tough as well to put it mildly no ?

    Best to all here and we will support each other.

    1. Hi David, I think the time of grieving for one parent while trying to support the other can be extraordinarily difficult. It’s so hard to know how much emotion to show/not to show and everyone’s circumstances are so different as their relationships with parents vary so much. It seems to me that the important thing is to take one’s cues from the surviving parent but also to take time out to grieve yourself for the parent who has died. Deferral of grief is in itself complicated and pretty much impossible but I reckon a level of it is necessary in order to support the surviving parent and make the very most of each precious moment spent with him/her ~ be it tears, laughter, ordinary chat or companionably silence. Know you aren’t alone!
      It was in those 16 months that I had Father after Mother died that poetry and writing were hugely important. I think it was because my senses were very much heightened.

      1. Indeed that is the way defer it a bit and do some grieving so that it does not get too difficult later on. There was a fair bit of relief for me because I could not see Dad in his condition and feared for Mom too much as she was the caregiver. Thanks for the explanation and making me feel just that little bit better socialbridge as I feel I have made mistakes but I think not that many as I think. Best, d

        1. David, I don’t think that any of us could feel that we have approached everything perfectly when it comes to losing our parents. There’s just so many variables involved and I hope that your mother is coping as well as possible. There’s no easy way of dealing with all this ~ either for her or for you ~ but I reckon just being there for each other is fundamentally important and talking about your father to your mother if/when she wants to. I was amazed at the extent to which my father dictated the pace on this one. There were times when he clearly wanted to talk about Mother ~sometimes their younger days and sometimes how much he missed her. I think it’s so important for the surviving parent to know that a family member cares as much as they do and is prepared to share tears, old family jokes, and just the things that were so much the essence of the parent who has died. Try not to be hard on yourself. None of us finds any of this easy!

  16. thanks socialbridge will try.

    Also had a question how come some posts do not show a reply sign below them e.g. your last comment did not have any reply below it.

    1. Hi David, I think if there have been a number of comments in a conversation the ‘Reply Button’ disappears. Please don’t let that stop you replying! Just use a new comment box and continue on! Hope the week goes as well as can be expected. j

  17. Socialbridge I had a question for you if you don’t mind. Do you think it makes it a little easier if the gap between the parents departure is longer than what many people get ? I mean like if there is a 5 year gap it is much easier to digest than 18 months for instance ? If so, I would like to know people’s and your views and strategies to overcome this gap in case they did not get it. Of course it is devastating either way but I just wanted to know what you have done to get past this, if that is something you have thought about. Best, david

    1. Hi David,, thanks for writing. I certainly have thought a lot about about the matter of the gap between the deaths of parents, especially as it seemed that mine were both very likely to die on the same day. In the event, there were 16 months between their deaths.

      I think a huge amount depends on each individual situation and how the grown-up child relates/has related to his/her mother and father. I know that I certainly deferred a fair bit of grieving for my mother in order to give my all to my father who was missing her dreadfully, as I was.

      I just don’t know how it would have been if there had been a much longer gap. I suspect that a lot would depend on the health and wellbeing of the surviving parent.

      Having said that I deferred a lot of the grieving, I should also add that I made certain to have special events, however small, to mark key dates relating to Mother during that 16 months ~ for example, I marked her first birthday by sailing some snowdrops ~ her favourite flowers ~ out to sea on her birthday; wrote poetry on days that were meaningful to her; went swimming at her favourite beach on the first Mother’s Day after she died; did a 13 mile walk on my first birthday without her …… So, yes, I did celebrate key dates but I suppose what I didn’t do was cry too much with my father who always found my tears hard to bear, even way back.

      I think it is key to remember that we never know when anyone is going to die and I certainly never thought I would be fortunate to have as many as 16 months with Father after Mother died.

      How are you doing now? I know it can’t be easy.

      1. Hi Socilabridge thanks for your reply. I got what you said completely. I actually had a slightly different question and am in a different situation. I am devastated by what has happened as I did not get a big gap so you know what I mean. I am feeling dizzy and since this was sudden, I am shocked. I expected a gap of at least 5 years and since I did not get this, I do not know if I can be normal again until I get the time up to 5 years covered i.e. I have to survive until then to be able to function normally again. I am also not sure if I can work right now due to the dizziness. So really I am looking for ways to cover this gap in some form. I am in denial so I want to make sure I don’t change too much until this 5 year period is over. It means 3 years are still left for me. I know I sound confused and not clear so apologies please. I just cried a lot.

        1. Hi David, I’m so sorry to hear that you are feeling so shattered and shocked. None of this is simple, by any means, but I really think that you should have your doctor check out the dizziness and tell him/her how you’re feeling. Shock really rocks one’s whole world but, from my experience, it has a way of steadying up again but it always helps to talk to a professional in the field of grief about it.
          Take care and keep in touch, jean

  18. Yes Jean I will try to handle this. I just feel that i would not have felt so shattered i.e. out of control if I had gotten like a 5 yr gap. I did not get this. You got 16 months which is also very short. I thought I had the worst of it but you have done really well with 16 months. It was too sudden as there was nothing wrong really i.e. no major illness or disease or whatever. People say the first year is brutal but i will never get over it or nor do I want to. But after a year I will try to live. Best to you Jean. D

    1. Hi D., I think it is probably easier for those, like me, who had a good bit of advance warning about the death of my father, in particular. However, it can also be desperately hard to see someone you love dying a slow death and watching their quality of life shrink way beneath a level that they would ever have wanted.
      I can feel the shock in what you write and I truly hope that will settle in time.
      One of the things that helped me cope with Mother’s death was writing about her in her younger days. I didn’t expect it to help but somehow it changed the subject from her dying to all the memories about her entire life ~ things she had told me about her growing up and then the many years that I was fortunate to know her. I was amazed how this focus brought a fair few smiles rather than just tears of sadness. I know you say you ‘don’t want to get over it.’ I’m not so sure we ever ‘get over’ the loss of someone who has been hugely significant in our lives. Rather, we come to treasure the emotional legacy that they have left and draw on that in good times and bad, as well as in very ordinary everyday things.

  19. Jean, it is tough but if there is a 5 year gap or so between the parents leaving us, it is a bit less to handle. I thought I was the only one with no gap but now I see you with 16 months and hear about some with even 11 months ! I did not get this 5 year gap inspite of asking God for this. Let’s see if I can survive this right now just a zombie grieving and doing administrative stuff like handling the apartment, electricity bills etc of parents.

    1. David, as you are on the subject of gaps, I know of quite a few couples who have died within hours of each other. It seemed that was going to happen with my parents and in ways I feel it would have been fitting as they had been with each other for well over 60 years.
      I certainly found all that administrative stuff terribly difficult and emotionally draining and I suspect most kids do. It certainly doesn’t make anything any easier, that’s for sure but I think for the future it’s important to do it in a way that you feel your parents would have wanted.

      1. Yes Jean, I am on subject of gaps but you know after reading your post I feel I am not the only one with this short gap. Indeed what you say ‘it would have been fitting’ makes me think.

        1. I think that the gap issue is a really tough one when it comes to older couples who are very united. I know that my mother (who was 88 when she died in May 2009) was striving so hard to keep going so as not to leave my father. She had a stroke about an hour after being told that he was at death’s door. She lived for just 5 days after that. Father may have been at death’s door but he re-grouped and lived for a further 16 months and died when he was 91 (in September 2010). I think the fact that he had memory issues cushioned him somewhat from the blow of hearing that she had died but he still missed her hugely.
          That was the context in which I used the term ‘it would have been fitting …..’
          Clearly, it would have been a huge shock for us kids if the two of them had died within hours of each other but it certainly wasn’t easy seeing Dad get so upset about Mother being gone. Thankfully, he wasn’t upset all the time and held onto his sense of fun and love of life so we had some great times during those last 16 months as well as some heartbreaking ones that you wouldn’t wish on anyone.
          It seems to me that we have to take huge account of the impact on the surviving spouse in all of this as well as the grown-up kids and possible grandchildren. But, overall, I think the surviving spouse is the principal person, assuming the relationship has been a good one.
          There’s many, many dimensions to all this and no two cases are the same.

  20. Hmm I see your point now Jean. The surviving spouse is the principal person as you suggest. You may be right. In that sense I am happy. In a sense it is fitting for the united couple if they have lived together but to be honest it is 1. devastating for the adult children 2. I think if the surviving parent is quite healthy then really he or she deserves to go on as there is no suffering. There should be a good gap between the two if one is healthy.

    Your case is slightly different as both were very elderly and from what you say not in the best shape so it may be fitting. But I think this is not the case for most people.

    Just a good healthy discussion so don’t take it as anything more than that. I was expecting at least 5 years before anything bad would happen as the surviving spouse was healthy in my case and now I am devastated.

  21. Your context is completely different in that both parents were very elderly and not well at all that is a completely different scenario from those whose one or both parents were fit and it was a sudden thing. It is not at all fitting in the latter case. You have completely ignored other situations and are focusing on your own.

    1. Hi David, I agree that there is a difference between the situations you mention but really I don’t think ANY two cases are the same because of the huge number of variables involved.
      Obviously the parents I knew best were my own so that’s the perspective from which I’m writing. I think, though, that it is important to have a forum where people can discuss the loss of elderly parents ~ be it sudden or not ~ because it is a huge milestone in most people’s lives.
      Your perspective may well be one which resonates with other readers and I hope that they will respond to you from their experience/s and be of support to you.

      1. Yes I hope so because certainly there are many instances where it is certainly not fitting that the couple leave within a short period, unless they were in your parent’s age group then maybe or if they were really not well. Google how to respond to sudden grief and you will see. Thanks though.

        1. Hi David, yes, I’ve known very sudden deaths and felt their impacts. It’s clearly different to a death that is more anticipated and rocks the system to the core.
          On the other hand, I think many who have seen the quality of life of their loved one’s ~ whatever age ~ decline to a point where there is no light, no hope, no communication ….. can have a difficult time too especially if this extremely poor quality of life lingers on for years.

  22. Yes Jean completely agree. If the quality is not there for many years (been through that too), it becomes unbearable day to day for the caregiver and the person going through it. There is some anticipation though of what can happen at any time. Sudden can rock the whole boat and it takes a lot longer after the fact to recover and not only that, there is no sense of any relief (and there is no guilt in feeling that) that the person is now out of his suffering. Sudden makes the survivor dizzy.

  23. You really need to get another perspective. Google this ‘ Living with Grief After Sudden Loss: Suicide, Homicide, Accident, Heart Attack, Stroke’ and you will understand what I mean. You cannot expect quality of life at 90 to be what it was but you can be traumatized if you lose someone suddenly at 72 or 68.

    1. Hi David, thanks for highlighting Kenneth Doka’s excellent book on ‘Living with Grief after Sudden Loss…’ It is a book that I have read in the context of having lost people who were very close to me to heart attack and suicide respectively.

      1. Thanks I read a bit of it, need to get the book by Doka then since you say it is really good. I am just reading a few articles on how to react with sudden loss and what to do etc.for now. The shock factor is very high with sudden. It’s a special grief area and I didn’t realize I had to actually read more on this than just general grief. That comes later for now it Is just learning to deal with the shock if I can.

      1. Well I am as ok as I can be I mean feel up and down but have done some reading on how to deal with sudden loss. The first 12 months can be brutal and now it has been 5.5 months. Maybe I am past the trauma stage but who knows ? I really don’t know but I do my routine and then get through the day. There are many times during the week when I do break down and then somewhat ok again. I am on another online forum where I talk to several people so that helps a lot in a sense that it is more dynamic help that I get from a similar group and give some back. Let’s see what happens. Thanks.

        1. It’s good to hear that there are moments of ‘somewhat ok.’ I’m not really a ‘stages’ person in that it seems to me that there can be whirlwinds of all sorts of feelings years and years after a loved one has died. However, I think that a big turning point can be when the world seems to have re-gained its foundations ~ even if they are still shaky enough.
          It’s good that you have found an online forum that is of benefit. Do keep in touch, j

  24. Indeed no idea how I will view the world a year from now. Stages: not a big fan of this either but I do remember that since it was sudden the first month or so I was feeling traumatic to a level that I never felt before in a sense of complete breakdown in the first week. Sure it may return even after years and I am ready for that. I don’t think I will ever be the same again and this is not because of the sudden thing it is because of the missing joy in my life. I still manage to go through my routine so yes ‘somewhat ok’ is probably right. Sure I will keep in touch. D

      1. Thanks Jean am hanging on well and got a fair bit done in 2014 even as the sudden pangs of grief hit me. Still a bit to do in December but I feel I have to cement the legacy of parents and yet leave my own mark. Finding a couple of reasons to live on is key for me and has been the goal of 2014. Still very nervous about what lies ahead but then again as you said, ‘children’ of elderly parents are themselves on the final road. So it is possible that I may not have a huge part of my life to tackle.

        1. Great to hear from you, David, and I’m glad that 2014 has been pretty okay.
          Yes, the reasons to live on are key and I hope you’ve found good, solid ones.

  25. Thank you so, so much for all of this. My own Dad died in 1999 at only 75 years; I now live with my Mum (nearly 91) one week and with her older sister (nearly 94) the next week, when my cousin is working up north in camp. My Aunty has a mild dementia, but Mum is doing pretty well still. Your writing is so insightful and thoughtful. I haven’t had time to read it all, but I’ll be back. I think you will be invaluable to me when I make the transition back to my own autumn life . . . I’m ok with death and dying and have been present at several deaths (and nearly as many births). It’s more the change that’s coming that is a challenge for me. Thanks, too, for the reference to Cicero; it’s many years since I read this. Now to see if our library has a copy . . . ~ Linne

    1. Linne, thanks for your kind words about this section of the blog and I’m glad that Cicero resonates with you. I think you are the first person I have met who is so involved with two relatives in separate places who are in their 90s and who are not both parents. It must be a very interesting and challenging experience, especially moving from one to the other.
      I’m also interested that you see beyond the ‘now’ and to the changes that lie ahead. I suspect few are able to look clearly at this? Maybe I’m wrong.

  26. My dear mum died in July and my dad passed away in 2008.My father died suddenly and it was a shock. however looking after mum became the priority for myself and my sister. both of us live away from home so we travelled to stay with her at weekends and organised home help during the week. it was stressful not always being there and always feeling you should be somewhere else as I have three small children and my sister has four slightly older children? My mum’s health declined rapidly over the past year and her death was not unexpected albeit sudden in the end.I felt I was prepared for it but how wrong I was. it has shaken me to the core. I cannot eat or sleep and I am constantly replaying the last few days of her life in my head? Blaming myself for not being there for her and going over the various arguments we had in her final few months. I know she loved and forgave me. When I would apologise to her she would say it is alright! it doesn’t matter. Now I miss her so much.She was a wonderful mother and I left a lot unsaid. I just hope she knew I loved her and how important she was in my life.

    1. Aine, deepest sympathy on your mother’s death. I agree that no matter how prepared we think we are, there is still a huge shock.
      It sounds like you are really beating yourself up and focussing on what you perceive as your weaknesses. I think that mothers have an uncanny way of knowing and understanding their children and of being able to read their minds and hearts!
      I hope that you will soon come to a point where the replay of those last few days subsides and you get a much wider perspective on your relationship with your beloved mother.

  27. I am looking forward to reading this a little later today. The title alone is really poignant to me as we lost my Dad in November 2010 at the age of 84. We had no idea when he died how brutally devastating it would be for my now almost 92 year old Mam. She lost her self that night and is now in some stage of dementia which has huge impact on our lives. She is living alone and hates being alone. We try to be there every day. It is all so sad. She is a lovely sweet soul.

    1. Hello Maura, I’m so sorry to hear of your father’s death and how badly it has impacted on your mother. I can fully understand when you say that she ‘lost herself that night.’ It can be so tough for couples who have been united for many years to be torn apart.

    2. I now realize a bit how difficult it is for the surviving spouse to be himself or herself at that age. Brutally devastating is the right word to lose a spouse after 50 years of being together. At that age (92) it is not a good idea to live alone at all, in fact after 80 its not good for the surviving spouse to be alone. Yes that can have a huge impact on all your lives too.

        1. well Jean just started writing. Mostly verbal conversations with parents in the last one year and so on. The sudden effect has taken a toll on me and yet as you asked me about 2014 drawing to a close, I feel I have survived well. I feel I have found a reason to live for now and that is to cement the legacy of my parents. I need to do that first before I decide not to live and this will take a while.

      1. I think i have not been here since almost 6 months and have been really taking it slow and yet working on important stuff. In fact I was reading my old posts as well. I have in fact only now started writing a bit and its not a daily journal but more a weekly thing to update parents of what i am doing.

        1. David, it’s good to hear from you and to hear that you are doing a bit of writing. I think it’s a case of doing the writing that comes most instinctively to you.
          What helped me hugely was writing about my parents young lives ~ or what I knew about them. That took the whole focus off the illnesses and the latter days and it made me realise what full lives they had led.

  28. Well i don’t know if the reasons are good and solid (too early for me to find those) but perhaps something to do for a while

  29. Generally doing some charitable work in orgs they believed in and so on. I’ll go to their educational institutions that they attended and try to make a contribution in their name etc.

        1. I hope you can actually enjoy it, even though that might sound a bit much to expect at this point. I found such solace from writing about my parents and their times ~ music etc, especially when they were young.

      1. hey thanks for the note ! am at parents place all of this year up to now and have been resting and visiting my parents colleges and office etc just for memories. Doing a lot of admin as i finally have some energy to do this work. Am crying often but able to engage a bit more than 2014.

        Need to travel towards the end of this year if possible to mix it up.

        best
        david

        1. David, good to hear from you and I’m glad that your energy is improving.
          I hope the rest of the year goes well for you and that the inevitable lows won’t be too deep and long-lasting.
          Do keep in touch,
          j

  30. I am still in tears reading all your lovely comments from all who have contacted you. I have such regrets and I am living with them in eternal pain. I was very lucky to have two wonderful parents who loved me dearly. My father died in 1996 from cancer although it was the complications of the operations over 9 weeks that really killed him. My mother and myself watched the horror unfold. I had been closer to him in my early life (perhaps my mother encouraged this strong bond as she had lost her father when she was ten years old – killed in a road accident) She had experienced some mental health problems which the family blamed upon this loss in the 1920’s – her mother had to bring up two boys and my mother on her own – a difficult feat. My mother always praised her mother but sadly me and my mother were always at loggerheads there was never harmony. As I got older this continued and if anything I was very difficult when I look back. When my dad died at first I was resentful of my mother out living my father (he was just 80 and nine years older than my mother) – both looked younger than their years.
    I did begin to realise that it was a gift that had been given to me to make a better relationship with my mother and indeed tried to do this in the years following my father’s death – but sadly I didn’t notice my mother’s changes in the right way and again the belligerent and argumentative daughter I was showed up on and off – giving always wonderful Christmas times and tried so hard to take my mother out and give her nice times but these were often soured by something very trivial. Each time I would begin again to try in earnest but alas as she grew more difficult I grew more controlling (I think) – As we lived near by I could help my mother with tasks and always did but insisted on her being clean and tidy (for her own good as well as anyone else’s- she must have begun with Alzheimer’s – I had noticed her memory changing and had asked the doctor to see her. The young doctor had failed to recognise the signs until much later too late when the brain scan said there had been small strokes and some plagues and tangles (indicative of AZ) –
    My mother died in 2013 she would have been 88 she was one day away from her birthday – the 9th of August – like my father it was a terrible end in hospital – we were blue lighted into the hospital she had developed a chest infection after having almost 1 and a half years bed ridden in her own bungalow loosing weight and she had been very slim to begin with – there was many things that didn’t add up to my mothers illness. She had appeared to have gone out somewhere and had a fall – she had come looking for me we think she had been upset by an intruder in the night by forgetting to lock the door – something terrible happened that she was unable to recall – she simply refused to get out of bed after this and would not let the care staff who had begun to come three times a day wash her. Everyone told me this was Alzheimer’s disease but I still think she had experienced something very disturbing. On finding my door locked in the middle of the night she must have returned home somehow – she told me she had fallen but then had no memory of the fall – its was very bad she said. She told me “It was raining and someone broke my heart” – the care staff said it may have been long ago but I still believe she was in the present.
    My mother was skin and bone not eating and later began to have swallowing difficulties she was very brave and I was clinging to her life in those last remaining years. I continued to work full time and went directly to my mothers house until the small hours when night care staff began. She had no peace – she even said this. I am left with all of the horror that my dear mother had to bear and with the knowledge that I had been unpleasant so many times in her life – she and I could argue like two sisters – we literally split our spleens – but somehow she used to push my buttons and unlike my lovely harmonious father I would be easily irked. I even think I took my moods to my mother – never really grew up ( a typical only child) … I try to think of all the lovely things I did for my mum (and I did ) but only the nasty parts are being played out as I grieve for her.
    I did tell her that I was sorry and that I loved her – I did do my best in the last years of her life – but I did put work first often even though I had asked her if she wanted me to give up work (placing it in her camp to tell me or ask me) knowing that she would say “oh that’s up to you” … she never asked me for anything really. – I was with both my parents when they died both had terrible ends deaths that were drawn out and terrifying to see. (and terrible ends for lovely people who were kind to all and who had given their all to others )
    On that last day my mother had waited for me clinging to the bars of the hospital bed I had to peel her from them – she had been calling out for me but could hardly breath – I had not expected her to die since we had arrived in the morning in the ambulance – she had recovered from the same chest infection at Christmas with antibiotics – I thought this would be the same – in such denial – I even stayed longer at work!!! when I think of this fact alone it is terrible – I could have stayed all day with her like I had been around for my father when he was in hospital -.
    When I compare the two I suppose my mother had been in and out of hospital in the latter years with a broken hip and something else from other falls – I had visited her everyday and had always brought her home each time. When I look back I feel she should not have lived alone – even in her bungalow – even though I had asked her to live with me and my husband – she had declined (she had said if I had been alone she would have considered this ) this made it difficult for me.
    Although when my father was alive there had often been antagonism between all three of us I realise we must have been unnaturally overly close because I realise just how much I do love my mother and did before I was loosing her. I even tried to tell her this but she had become dismissive at this point and said “Oh you’ll get over I I had to do” which then made me realise how I had ignored her grief or not even acknowledged it when my dad died but still how concerned she had been for me – I now look in on myself with despair – knowing her background and my fathers I am appalled at my behaviour over all the years . its a lesson too late to learn I feel like an orphan and as an only child I now could be such – In some ways I am not hoping for redemption for me – I think this remorse is just and fitting – is just so sad that I feel she must never really have known just how much I did love her – it was there all the time and it took her severe situation and dying to make me realise it all – too late. (my father used to say I would learn the hard way – I guess he was right ),

    1. Gwen, thank you for writing and please accept my deepest sympathies on the deaths of your your mother and father.
      I’m so sorry to hear that they had such difficult deaths. This can be so tough on the people themselves and on loved ones who are left remembering.

      I don’t think there is anyone who is without regrets after a loved one dies. There is always more that we think we should have said and done.

      It sounds like you are being very hard on yourself about your relationship with your mother. Maybe the time has come to look at all you DID do for and with her.

      I must say that I have invariably found the second year after the death of a loved one much harder than the first. It seems to bring a rawness that maybe nature thinks we can face. Also, it tends to bring to me a focus on the worst parts, that replay over and over.
      As I’ve said before, I found that writing about my parent’s lives from their childhoods helped me greatly in seeing that their lives were nit defined by those last years, which had a lot of darkness, but also good moments.
      I truly hope that you will find a calmness that you deserve and time to regain your energies after what has clearly been a very difficult time in your life. With love, jxxx

      1. Thank you for these kind words, yes although less acute, this second year feels more final and I find myself really missing my mother – often trapped in the worst moments and standing in her shoes being her feeling it all as I fear she would have done. – I did at least feel I had really known her for all of her sorrow. Sadly her childhood was torn apart with the loss of her father and as a middle child I think there was other kinds or sorrow – then the Second W War came along and did rip apart the youthful years to some extent . I grew up on stories about how they missed the boys and had to send all their sweets away etc. my mum couldn’t get away like some young women of her age did – she had to look after her mother who had a “bad heart” They used to wait for the telegrams and her older brother was ” mentioned in dispatches ” – so much was lost and she had been engaged to a young man sadly while he was away she helped his mother as well as her own but when he returned he told her he had a new sweetheart while he had been away in Italy. Somehow either he told her to explain he had been untrue or that the rumours were unfortunately true but whatever it was she broke off the engagement or they both did and was clearly upset by this accordance with my aunts descriptions. This was her second loss. First her father then her sweetheart. Years latter when she was experiencing a mental breakdown (when her eldest brother was dying of cancer) she began to say she had seen “Stephen on the television ” of course this was all fantasy but shows to me how my mother coped with loss – how she buried things but never got over them. Towards the end of her life in her very ill state she may have been relating to the past when she recalled “that it was raining and someone broke her heart” but because there was some cause to believe she had had suffered an event in the house or in the hospital which we never got to the bottom of it was difficult to know which century she was referring to. She herself was unable to say. She had gone back to the time of her working life which was the happiest – and she was sure the care staff were making her “late for work “each day until she had asked one in dismay ” Am I really retired ?” It is so sad to think that she had forgotten that she had been retired and having life easy for the last 30 years. I do have a good tape recording of my mum talking about how she enjoyed her work and wished everyone else could do the same she always said she loved her working life” because she had worked with such lovely people” – It spoke volumes of who she was – she was very much a people person – Leo her birth sign suited her so well. But never have I known someone suffer so much and yet not have any regrets. (she said she would do it all again just as it was) this was of course before she was very ill.
        She was very brave in the last two years of her life it is difficult to look back on but I am searching for all the good parts – my 90 year old aunt has some lovely photographs of a holiday they all went on together (my mum and her two brothers and her mother and a whole bunch of people – off to the Isle of Man – I had never seen these photos and never seen this joy on my mother’s face as she is photographed leap frogging over her brother – in their early twenties I guess all having a ball its good to see she was clearly having a good time. I wish I could say she had many more to come but no photo was ever again quite like those carefree moments captured. Perhaps this was where she forgot about the man she wouldn’t marry and also her father – whatever it was it was the right time for her. I believe not long after this she met my father. (they – we did have lovely holidays up and down this country though they never ventured aboard),
        Anyway thank you again J for your kind words I will try to find some peace – I began to return to choir where I feel there is some heeling. I did the same thing when my father died. The clear difference that I didn’t appreciate at the time was that I still had my mother left – it was so much easier . What a shame I didn’t tell her how I appreciated her – she never knew. (she felt sorry for me loosing my father!!) XXXX

        1. Gwen, apologies for the delay in responding. Your comment somehow slipped through the net.
          I hope you are finding life a little easier.
          I suspect that your mother knew how much you cared about her. Mothers seem to be able to read their kids very well.
          She certainly sounds like a deeply caring and sensitive person. It’s lovely to hear about that carefree photo.

  31. My parents seemed healthy In the beginning of 2014. They were In their early 70’s. They always acted young for their age and looked younger. We talked on the phone regularly since they lived In California and I live In Houston. Then In March my Dad started feeling sick to his stomach. As the Doctors treated him for a bile duct blockage, they found a small spot on his pancreas. Even though the Doctors said not to worry, It might not be anything. Somehow I had a feeling what they were going to say next. About a month later the tests revealed he had pancreatic cancer. They said they could operate because It was very small. I flew to California for the operation. We were all trying to stay positive. My worst fear was him dying on the operating table. But the operation never happened. They cut a hole In his stomach and put a scope In the front side just to make sure that the cancer was just Isolated to the one place they seen In the beginning. Then the Surgeon came Into the waiting room and said he needed to talk to the wife and oldest son and daughter. That’s when I looked at my sister with this look of lost hope. He then showed us the new x-rays that showed the cancer had spread everywhere. He told us my Dad had 6 months to live. He passed away 6 months later. It was hard to see this man that was so healthy looking become so thin and sick In just a matter of months. He was In terrible pain and suffered the whole time. We just felt so hopeless because there was nothing we could do. Around the same time we noticed something not right about our Mom. She seemed to forget things and would keep repeating herself and asking questions that we just answered. She refused to see a Doctor and we finally tricked her and took her In for some tests. They revealed she had advanced Alzheimer’s Disease. My Mom quickly declined and passed away August of this year. I’ve lost both my parents In a span of 9 months. It’s just hard knowing that they’re not here anymore. I can’t make those telephone calls every week like I did not too long ago. Life has changed now. Sometimes I blame myself for moving away 20 years ago. Those could have been years I could’ve spent with them. Things won’t be the same anymore. Everyday In my mind I’m reminded that my Parents are no longer here.

    1. Dear Craig, I’m so sorry to hear of your sad, sad losses. There seems to be no easy way to see our beloved parents go from health to illness and then pass on. You must still be reeling around with the shock of it all.
      I hate to think of you regretting leaving California. Regrets are so pointless, even though we all seem to have them.
      Please be kind to yourself and know that you are by no means alone in having that sense of everything being changed forever.
      I hope that memories of happy times shared will take over from the horrible memories of the last year or so.
      Please keep in touch and thank you for stopping here. It’s a place where I think all the readers understand, even though our experiences are all so unique.

    2. Craig my sincere support to you. its a killer when things happen so fast and any time is tough but 9 months is really a very very short gap. please take it slow and breathe in breathe out. write to me if u wish as i know how devastating this can be when parents are still quite young. best, d

  32. My husband, who is a very practical man and not fond of expressing deep emotion or spending time on self-analysis, gave me some profound advice on the death of my mother, the impact of which had shocked the very foundations of everything I knew of my world. Having lost both his parents some years before, he told me I would never get over my loss but would, in time, get used to the feeling. Some 14 months after losing her, I am indeed starting to get used to the feeling and therefore less overwhelmed.

    The only piece of advice that I would like to add to everyone’s insightful comments, is that I found I was continually torturing myself with the same shattering memories of those last few days that my mother lived through. However, I came to realise that by constantly reliving those moments, I was being unjust and certainly not giving credit and the same kind of thought to the full life that my mother had lived. Now, for every sad memory that suddenly appears unannounced, I have an appointed happy memory of some part of my mother’s life to help drive away those first unwanted images. It doesn’t always work but mostly it now does.

    1. Hi Jane, thanks very much for writing and please accept my sympathy on the death of your mother. Fourteen months is a very short time in the overall scheme of things.
      I agree wholeheartedly with your husband’s advice. It can be so difficult to get away from the last days/weeks as they seem so vivid.
      It was when I actually at down and wrote about my mother’s life ( I wrote the end bit first) and then started at her early years that I found myself being able to see the broader picture.
      I’m sure your words of wisdom will be very helpful to others who happen to visit here.
      Please keep in touch. j

  33. I lost my Mum in 2012, after an unpleasant death, and many issues involving care in her old age. I felt devastated and relieved in equal measure. It was one of the reasons that I started blogging later that year, and I have written some posts about her on my blog. I can relate to much of what you have expressed here.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. Hi Pete, many thanks for writing and my sympathies on your mother’s death. I’m glad that my writings resonated with you and I look forward to reading yours.

  34. Still surviving Jean. Just day to day and a bit. Have not made any major changes to my life and thats good, except that i had moved back to my parents apartment in 2015. Nervous but hanging on.

      1. Moving back has its pros and cons. Its difficult and yet gives me a secure feeling and i feel the presence of parents everywhere. Also its good that i did this for practical reasons. Its great that i did this not too long after the shock and yet not too early so the apartment feels alive and there is a sense of continuity.

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