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Luck feels it further widens the gap of inequality when the middle classes spend all their money on parent care and have nothing left to inherit from their parents' savings. She's barely worked in the past half year due to a three-month-long visit to England.
Knowing that nothing in her dad's case is easily resolved, Luck focuses on her own well-being, which is crucial to her maintaining the long haul. She attends programs at the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care in Manhattan, which integrates Buddhist practice with intentional end-of-life care, and reminds herself of what's she come to realize through the teachings: "The actual journey of actively dying and being sick, that's my dad's journey. That's not my journey. I can't change that for him." In England, she maintains her daily Pilates and meditation practices, and brings healthy food to the nursing home to keep her body strong while she cares for her dad. And she tries not to get so lost in it that she can't find the simple pleasures, like playing cards or sitting in the sun with him.
Allison Gould, a social worker at the Center for Healthy Aging at Northern Dutchess Hospital, says, "When someone is taking care of their parents, people tend to see it as an act of duty or responsibility, and don't always recognize the degree to which caregiving impacts a person's life at every level." Gould offers bimonthly caretaker support groups where people can discuss the challenges. "The word that keeps coming up in these situations is loss. The person receiving care is losing independence, but the person giving care has also lost so much of what their life was like before." As people have children later in life, a scenario where people are caring for parents and children simultaneously has developed—what has been loosely termed the sandwich generation. Similarly, there's rising longevity, and the Baby Boomers are finding themselves entering retirement with a 90-year-old parent to care for, and a small percentage (7 percent), are the elderly caring for slightly more elderly spouses. What already felt busy or barely manageable could easily become overwhelming with the addition of eldercare responsibilities.
Advanced Care Planning
Gould finds that starting conversations early on is key to being prepared for what's to come. One of the things she does at the Center for Aging is advanced care planning, where she guides people through much deeper conversations about the nitty-gritty of health-care proxies. "You might be surprised by how much the person you're concerned about has thought about this," Gould says. "They may be helpful in guiding you in what to do."
Gould says that aging parents sometimes fall into types: those who are looking forward to their adult children taking over their affairs; those who fight to maintain their independence; and those who come to acceptance, but with guilt, shame, and disappointment. She does outpatient counseling with people who are 65 and older who have acute issues related to getting older (adjusting to the time structure of retirement or no longer being able to drive) as well as people with ongoing anxiety, depression, or family issues. "As people get older, they can lose confidence," Gould says. "The things they once could take care of, they now need a lot of feedback and reassurance. It takes time and patience and energy, and can be really draining. The number one complaint from caregivers is that there's not enough time in the day."
Including faraway siblings and other family members can take some creativity, but it can ease the burden on the local person. Gould suggests paying bills online or calling the parent each night as ways of helping others share the experience. But families can be wrought with tension. As Rachel Loshak, a musician and teacher in Kingston, identifies, "There might be years or a lifetime of struggling communication that, when someone is sick, can be heightened. It's hard to get past that, but you have to in order to move forward and be able to care for that person lovingly." Loshak is an eight-hour flight from her mother, who is near 70 and has a rare form of incurable cancer. She takes comfort in her brother being an hour-and-a-half flight away. And Loshak looks to her mom for inspiration. Her mom took care of her grandparents when Loshak was a teenager, and offers a good example of selflessness. "There's a lot more baggage with your own parent. You've really got to rise up," Loshak says. "As my mother gets older and things progress, I envision myself in the future being able to rise up more. I have been able to let go of things that I find difficult within our relationship, but there's definitely more I can do."