“Tips for Mothering Mom,” Ensign, Apr. 1993, 65–66
Because people are living longer these days, many of us are giving care to elderly relatives, who quite possibly have serious health problems. After caring for my dad and mom, I developed several guidelines for others who are caring for elderly loved ones.
Let them do as much as they possibly can for themselves. When my dad was still living, his mind was very alert and he handled my parents’ financial affairs. But his handwriting became illegible, and I had to write checks. He directed me and balanced the checkbook after my mother was unable to do so. Just before he died, he was in so much pain that he was happy to be relieved of these chores. But even then, I drove him to the bank to do the major transactions so that he could remain in control of his finances.
After my dad died, my mother was unable to do any banking, and I took care of all her financial transactions. I always explained to her what I was doing, and together we reviewed her checkbook weekly.
Help them feel that they are contributing members of the household. When my daughters came home from college in the summer, they would stop in for lunch with my mother when they could; being able to feed them made Mom feel needed. I often asked her advice on Relief Society lessons I was preparing. I had heard most of the stories she related to me—some of them many times—but I was happy to hear her tell them again.
We often reminded Mom that she had been a great influence on our children. We all felt we could benefit from her sharing this phase of her life with us. She did this by writing weekly letters to all of her children, who passed the letters on to her grandchildren.
These letters contained not only family news but words of encouragement, faith-promoting stories from her life, and other uplifting items.
We also found it important to share our lives with Mom—both the good and the bad aspects. When we held back information about people—especially family members—who were suffering or having problems, she felt left out and hurt if she found out about these matters later or from someone outside the family.
Ensure that they have the privacy they want and need. When my parents were in my home, they had their own room with an adjoining bath. But we welcomed them in any other part of the house as well, especially encouraging them to join us in the family room and kitchen, where most of our family activity took place.
Encourage them to keep in touch with friends. If their hearing is impaired, get a hearing device attached to the telephone headset so it is pleasant for them to chat with others. Help provide ways for them to socialize, too. When my mother was living alone in her mobile home, I occasionally helped give luncheons for her friends. She was hostess, but I did all the preparation. This gave her a way to thank her friends for their many kindnesses.
Let them reminisce. We had family home evening with my parents nearly every week. We often showed family slides, sang around the piano, and talked about our childhood experiences with them. Once we had a “This Is Your Life” party in their honor. We had my parents record stories from their lives on audiotapes. They loved it—and the finished product is priceless to our family. Later, we encouraged Mom to finish writing her life history so her posterity would know her. She faithfully spent a few hours at the typewriter each day, even though her arthritis made it a painful task.
Help them to look their best. People always need to be able to look in the mirror and feel good about themselves. Make sure men are shaved and have a good haircut and women have a perm when needed. Find someone to come to the home and help you with grooming tasks, if necessary.
If their health permits, take them out for a change of scenery. Take them for rides to the country, to malls, to the beach to smell the ocean air. Even just getting out in the yard can be therapeutic.
Regularly get away for a few hours or even a few days. Arrange for someone to care for your loved one while you are gone. You’ll come back refreshed.
Hold them and tell them you love them and will be there for them every day.
Pray for strength. When times get tough—when older loved ones become cranky or irrational—pray daily to be able to meet the challenge. Remind yourself that the cranky person you are dealing with is not the real mom or dad you know but someone who is waiting for death to release him or her from physical problems. Regularly remind yourself of all the people they’ve served and of those who love them.
As I look back now at the six years I spent caring for my parents, I have come to the conclusion that our family grew from the experience of caring for them. I’m glad we had the opportunity to serve them in this way.—Helen Johnson Mitchell, Meadow Vista, California