First, have the conversation—or better yet, a series of conversations— about what really matters in the final chapters of life….and end of life. This process may take some time to get rolling. Discomfort, avoidance, and denial are always present. However, try to engage your parents as early as possible, involve your siblings, and be open to everyone’s thoughts and feelings. Listen hard to what is being said. Facilitate, but do not be too quick to put your stamp on the outcome. Consider reading and discussing Atul Gawande’s wonderful book Being Mortal, if that type of dialogue works for your family. Evaluate all options and choices that need to be made.
Second, get your ducks in a row. Organize the things that you can control, recognizing that aging and caregiving are unpredictable journeys. Get the basics in order, including legal affairs, finances, insurance, medical care, and safe housing.
Third, don’t try to go it alone. Use professional resources that are readily available, and get trusted, third-party advice. Talk to friends, participate in support groups. At work, consider speaking with your supervisor and the Human Resources/Benefits Departments about your situation and the stresses that you face. They are there to support you and to enhance your well-being. Even with all the support from friends and family, work colleagues and Human Resources, I could have used even more help. I wish I knew then about Senior Care Authority.
Finally, take care of yourself even as you take care of someone else. Caregiving can be all-consuming. Don’t let it be. Make time for yourself and your family. Find time to exercise—even if it’s a short walk—and eat as healthily as possible. Breathe.