Coping with Aging Parents from Abroad
For most of us a natural part of the cycle of life is when our roles as children start to shift from that into caretaking roles where are parents are concerned. This can be a major transition emotionally, mentally and even physically especially if you’re living thousands of miles away.
In my own personal experience, being in the UK was a little stressful at times as my mother in California was battling a heart condition. Thankfully, I was able to fly back to her frequently (every 4 weeks) to help my father care for her and spend time with them. I’m the youngest of 6 and had the most flexibility (and willingness) around caretaking for her so I made the conscious choice to be her primary caretaker, aside from my father of course. My mother and I were very close and we shared so many things together. There’s nothing I wouldn’t have done for her, OR my father.
Getting back to the topic!
Being apart from aging parents can be a difficult situation and it may seem like there’s no solution to the dilemmas around it. It can fill you with emotions around guilt, frustration, sadness and confusion just to name a few. The inner battles can consume you if you don’t know how to move out from them.
A shift like this can even prompt you to confront your own mortality as you begin to confront that of your parents. In addition, it can also bring up issues about how well they cared for you when you were young. You might even start to feel fearful of losing them.
All of these things are completely normal and it’s OK to feel them. However, giving these feelings the power to suck your energy and keep you from focusing on the direct matter can be exhausting and maybe even debilitating in some cases. The last thing you need is to worry yourself into a health situation where you aren’t able to take care of anyone!
Here are some things to keep in mind that can help you cope with the situation from abroad;
Stay mindful of what you can control and what you can’t
It doesn’t serve you any good to continuously question the situation or ‘why’ it’s happening. Remember, life doesn’t throw anything at you that you can’t handle, so remain calm with those thoughts and release them as soon as you can so that you can focus on what you can control.
Stay Connected to Family
Whether you’re one of six children or an only child, there is always someone at home that can help you with certain tasks. Perhaps an aunt, uncle, cousin or even a neighbor. Make sure you have trusted help that can check in periodically with your parent(s) when you’re not there. Sometimes these kinds of situations can help improve your relationships with family that perhaps weren’t so great to begin with. This would be a good time to do some self reflection and practice forgiveness. I’m sure your parents would appreciate the gesture and help them feel more at ease with their own situation and healing process.
You absolutely MUST take care of you! As I mentioned earlier, you have to be in good health in order to help others so please make sure that you tend to your body, mind and soul. How you do this is up to you, do whatever brings you joy and relaxation. Yoga, walking, journaling, taking a nap when necessary. Pay attention to your body!
Keep a Medical File for your Parent(s)
If your parent is undergoing any health issues, like my mother was, make sure to take notes whenever speaking to the doctors on the phone, family members, etc… and keep all notes and information in one place. This way you stay on top of what is being done, scheduled, and that you are not forgetting anything that might be crucial. In addition, this helps you keep the rest of the family and friends informed with the proper information.
Let Go of the Guilt and Emotions
This is a hard one, I know. I totally understand how you might be feeling around your parents and not being able to be there with them. Whenever I would start to feel this way I would ask my husband for a hug and a chance to sit down and talk about it. You can do the same with your partner or even with a friend. Expressing yourself around your feelings helps you to release the need to dwell on them. It helps you to release them with more ease. Journaling is another good way to do this. Write your heart out and then shut the book (or laptop) and leave it there! Whatever works for you to help clear your mind and stay focused.
Make a Plan
I was fortunate enough to travel as often as I could to California to be with my mom. If you have this flexibility or can figure out some travel time to be there around important appointments, procedures, or just to visit! Sit with your partner and discuss all the possibilities and this includes your employer as well if you’re working. Include everyone whose affected by your plans and ideas. Keeping everyone in the loop well in advance will ease the process of executing your plan in the end.
This one can really help you process the reality of things and help you through your healing journey during and after. Starting conversations with your parents around family history, their childhoods, favorite memories, their life as a young adult, and topics of that nature can enrich your heart and open you up for more appreciation and compassion. Learning more about your parents and what their lives were like, before you, can bring up some amazing findings that can help you find peace and maybe even some revelations. Create a conversation journal and write it all down, this can make for a beautiful reflection book for later down the road.
Be Patient and Kind
You can easily forget to settle into your patience when things get hectic and it can set you up for ‘not so kind’ reactions and thoughts. Coming from a latin background I've definitely struggled with this one and still do at times! I learned how to surround myself with positive affirmations like pictures of family, items that bring me peace and remind me to settle the mind or wearing my bracelet that quotes “BREATHE” Find whatever works for you. You can journal your feelings and experiences around your parents and document everything from funny to difficult moments. Just to share with you a memory of my mom that just came up, I’m remembering how she always used to play her Rockin’ 50’s CD collection (she used to buy stuff from infomercials all the time!) while she cleaned the house and she would dance with my dad when he’d come in the room. Remembering how she lived when she was able to walk and dance always makes me smile 😊
From here you can begin to take a better stance as to what you can do and how you can plan for peace of mind. Seeing your parents age and cope with health issues is never easy but finding peace with how life rolls out for you is essential for the healing process. Whether you get to say ‘farewell for now’ in person or not and no matter what you do and how often you do it, you will know in your heart, and with a smile, that you did everything perfectly. And most importantly, they will know too.
I had the blessing of being at my mother’s side watching her transition into another world where she could get up, dance again and be happy. Knowing what I did for her and all the great times we had together warms my heart.
Trust in the circle of life and release all else.
With Love & Gratitude,