Taking Care of an Aged Parent

Taking care of an aged parent is difficult in the best of times — to him (or her) you are the perennial child and they feel it is their privilege to boss you around. They resent your taking charge when necessary. And yet they demand that you baby them, not just physically but emotionally.

My father isn’t much into emotions (unlike me — I deal with a whole spectrum of emotions every day) but lately he is given to panic attacks when things go wrong, such as when the oxygen tank stopped working. (He does fine without oxygen for hours at a time, so his belief that he was going to die was simply the result of his panicking.)

Today, he had a nosebleed, and he demanded that I get a doctor here to cauterize the wound. He was sure the blood was coming from his lungs and he feared he was going to bleed to death. I explained that the continued use of oxygen through a nasal cannula could cause nosebleeds and told him what to do, but of course, I was “just” his daughter who couldn’t possibly understand. Since he wasn’t used to nosebleeds, the continued bleeding scared him. Even after I called hospice and got the same assurance, that such bleeding was normal with constant oxygen use, he continued to believe that the nosebleed was a cause for major alarm. He said he seldom had nosebleeds, and that he had always clotted well. I explained that whatever had been the case in the past was no longer the case, especially since he’s taking baby aspirin to thin his blood.

I kept wanting to say, “What part of ninety-seven don’t you understand?” But I’m kinder than that, and simply did what I could for him until the arrival of the nurse I had requested.

Although I was hesitant about this particular hospice service (I’d had bad experiences with them, and the first month was rocky until people and supplies became part of the routine), they’ve been very understanding, even allow me to vent my frustration without looking askance at me for being a bad daughter.

I wonder sometimes if this would be easier if he weren’t so terrified of death. He believes in God and prays interminably, but I guess even though he fully believes his wife is waiting for him in heaven, it doesn’t mitigate the fear. In fact, he doesn’t seem to believe that he too will die. He hates being on hospice because he says it makes him feel as if we think he is dying, even though dying is a prerequisite of hospice care. He doesn’t seem to understand the palliative nature of hospice, nor does he seem to understand that they don’t provide round the clock nurses. (All this inability to understand makes him sound unsound, but the truth is, he still is sharp.)

He does fine when he can manage every aspect of his life, going about his rigidly controlled routine, letting nothing unpleasant or disruptive into his daily sphere, but when there is an emergency, his fear bursts out of him like some grotesque alien.

I am trying to learn from this. I am trying to let things happen, to let go of my control of things, to be resilient, to acknowledge the emotions that flit through my days. To not be so consumed by fear that I let life pass me by.

Of course, at the end of my life, I could be just like him — fiercely hanging on to every breath I take — so I try to understand. And after all, it is still his life to do with as he can.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.