Surprised by a new frailty

Living far from your parents keeps them in suspended animation until you see them next.


It’s the same idea as when you were growing up and your aunt, uncle, friends mother, old teacher would comment how BIG you had grown.  Except it is not how BIG your parents have grown but how much they have aged.


A new frailty in your parents hits you all at once when you don’t see it on a daily or even monthly basis.


I knew my dad was ill, although none of us really knew how ill, but I remember waking up one morning on our last camping trip and having to do a double take.  Not because he looked old but because he looked exactly like my grandpa, his dad, who was in fact, old.

Papa camping with his grandkids


My husband and I are fairly active people.  My in-laws have been visiting us for nearly a decade.


As I think back on what we used to do compared to what we do now, that decade has really brought about a lot of changes.  Both with my & I (we had three kids in half that time) and with my in-laws. Where we used to make sure they could still balance and ride a bike, we now measure what we can do by how cool the night air is and how far the walk is.

Grandparents bike riding with grandchild

We moved away from our family two months after our wedding.  I can still remember my grandma’s voice exclaiming (and she never spoke, always exclaimed!) that she would “…never see me again!”  And unfortunately, she didn’t.  She passed away two days after our wedding having never made it to the wedding.


But I knew I was loved and I was comforted by the fact that because of my wedding all of her children were there with her the weekend she passed away.  Two of her three children traveled hours by car or plane to be present for my wedding.


And moving far away, I knew that someday I may have to make a last minute flight for a dying family member.  And for many years, I didn’t have to worry about it.  Until I did.


Nearly 5 – 7 million families will provide long-distance care to a loved one.  It’s reasonable to assume a good many of us will face the dilemma of caring for an aging parent while living miles or even oceans apart.


So how do we prepare? How do we negotiate the unknown?  How do we help our loved ones prepare for their own care?


I watched from the distance of college as my mother arranged and cared for her mother.  I heard stories of how my best friends’ family cared for her grandmother for three long years.


I read along with the private facebook posts of my Aunts & Uncles as they cared and arranged care for both their parents.


Papa reading birthday card from Granddaughter

My dad’s illness was sudden and quick; the care to be arranged was a matter of weeks and days not months or years.  My mother made most of the decisions as I trusted in her that they had already talked about the “what if’s” of life.


I am grateful for being able to be present with him at the end of his life.  Considering the miles that separated us, I was lucky to have been there.  (Read more about my experience here).


I think often how my husband’s family will care for his mother and how I will my own.  For that matter, even how our siblings will be cared for.


While I have thought a lot about it, I have not had to arrange for care or help my own loved ones prepare for their own care.


I expect reading up on tips for managing the long-distance care of a loved one to be the easy part.  Facing the new frailty of our parents and having the courage to have a conversation is going to be the hard part.


What tips do you have for opening the dialogue?  Have you provided elder care or illness care from a distance?  What advice would you share?  Share your story.