We (six adult children) would appreciate some ideas to improve the quality of life for our semi-invalid parents. Mother is 67; Dad, 74.
They've been getting by, because the oldest child has moved home with her daughter and the rest of us pitch in to do repairs. My siblings are the most wonderful people and we are very close, which is a tribute to our mother. She is a very positive person and a loving, supportive mother whom we adore.
Mom became drug/alcohol dependent after the birth of her third child. There were many suicide attempts, hospitalizations, near break-ups of the family.
She recovered after 35 years but was left with diabetes and heart disease. She doesn't drive, only goes out once a week and is afraid to go out of town.
Her only daily comforts are her big dog, which she can't exercise properly; bird watching, and sharing vicariously in each of our lives. Although she's looking forward to a new grandchild next month, she has had bouts of depression lately. Our father gets on her nerves terribly.
Early in their marriage, he was a heavy drinker and womanizer and she remains terribly bitter.
Several of us children remember his physical and mental abuse and have buried anger. When Mom was sick, he would tell us that she would be committed for years and that we'd have to go to orphanages.
Dad smoked three packs a day for years and now is a respiratory cripple on multiple medications. He never fully recovered from major surgery last summer and his hygiene is deteriorating. He only eats snacks and his weight and strength are declining.
He always has been easy-going and jolly when he's out and hot-tempered at home. And now he's always home, because he won't drive and just watches TV, follows sports and reads the paper. He is very jealous of the dog and of our niece and also is a bit confused, sometimes paranoid, and wrings his hands and cries over small problems. The people who live in and visit their home must whisper and tiptoe so they won't upset him.
How can we make their last days better? Mom has had such a lousy life.
Your mom may be happier than you think, because you're giving her what any mature parent wants most: grown children who love each other and who include her in their lives.
Your dad may not have been as bad as you remember. Sometimes people feel so trapped in marriage that they drink and philander to pretend that they're still carefree.
In charity, take a fresh look at his life: Your father was no angel, but he dealt with your mom's addictions for 35 years and cared for six children during her suicide attempts and hospitalizations. He obviously was afraid but he stayed with his responsibilities. He didn't put you in orphanages. He tried. You have to admire him for that.
You and your siblings need more than these few lines to erase your anger. A few sessions of family therapy should help you put your pain in perspective.
Your father needs other help. He should see a gerontologist -- a specialist for the elderly -- to find out whether his symptoms come from one of the medicines he takes, bad hearing, depression or other problems that usually can be treated, or from Alzheimer's disease, which cannot.
A better diet might improve his disposition. Because he has become a snacker, have your mom divide his three meals into six small ones: toast and fruit for breakfast; a hard-boiled egg in midmorning; crackers and soup at lunch; cheese and fruit in the afternoon; chicken and a tomato for supper; cookies and milk at night.
The sister who lives with your parents is certainly doing her share, but the rest of you can help in other ways.
Make time to take your mom to breakfast or shopping or even on some errands with you. She needs more breaks away from your dad.
And he needs breaks away from home. He shouldn't drive, but someone could take him to a high-school game or an afternoon at the track. At least he'll be jolly there and he may be better-tempered at home.
Small adventures may make him take more interest in his appearance. If not, take him to a barbershop for a shave two to three times a week, or give him a shave at home -- something he'll accept better from a son than a daughter.
There are some books to help you too. Among the best: Caring for Your Parents, by Helene MacLean (Doubleday; $22.50); Home Care for the Elderly, by Jay Portnow, M.D., with Martha Houtmann, R.N. (McGraw-Hill; $16.95); Growing Old, by Dr. David A. Tomb (Penguin; $9.95) and Alzheimer's Disease, by Lenor S. Powell, Ed.D., and Katie Courtice (Addison-Wesley; $8.95).
You'll also want to do something special for the sister who lives with them -- and for her daughter, who may be embarrassed to have someone over after school. Invite her to visit you -- and bring a guest. Questions may be sent to P.O. Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.
1987, Tribune Media Services Inc. Worth Noting Turn summer and weekends into sure-fire good times with Rainy Days, Sunny Days: Saturday's Child, a guide to family activities in the Washington area, by Deborah Churchman and Anne H. Oman (Washington Book Trading Co., $6.95).