Each generation and each family is faced with difficult decisions when parents become too frail to remain in their own homes. For many oldies, they have lived in their home over many years, and in some cases for several decades. Sometimes the house itself has an emotional tie for the children and even the grandchildren. Nevertheless, the next step needs to be taken,
The current Australian policy, which I applaud, is to facilitate care at home are for as long as possible. This not only is very affirming and positive for the elderly, it provides a huge saving to the Government coffers.
There are also effective 'half-way house' provisions that can also be made. Older people realise before it is too late that it's time to downsize, can relocate into a wide range of self-managed or serviced retirement facilities. A good friend of ours, one of our five praying ladies, a widow, with the caring assistance of her close knit family, realised for herself, that it was time to relocate and has found a whole new life in a retirement setting.
My parents over several years made wise decisions for themselves, each relocation was made with a very sensible approach (large house, smaller house, self contained unit, full care) and they were in the fortunate position to have the support of family and a local church network.
Many situations are not so easy
Many other situations are not so easy. I recount the situations of numerous friends over my 35 years as a Baptist minister that were far more complicated, and there was much distress for family relationships.
Family relationships are very complex. I have discovered that invariably there are the extremes in personalities of the oldies and their younger family members; from those who never want to face the realities of such a situation, to those who appear to be cold-blooded in their analysis of the bare facts.
The most difficult situations are not related to the bereavements where one elderly parent is left, nor the situation where only one of the elderly parents is in full care due their physical or emotional circumstances, but rather where the medical situation has made it impossible for one elderly person to look after their ill spouse at home.
The questions raised with such circumstances are text-book cases of heartbreak and indecision. There are a variety of counselling provisions available, from loving caring church communities to charitable sector agencies to government offices, to provide wisdom and care to families who face such agonising decisions.
Whatever the decision
Whatever decision is made, although it will be the one that is most sensible at the time, humans will grieve later about issues associated with 'could have done more', 'waited to long', 'unfair guilt', and such like. Inevitably, these feelings last for a time. The family can benefit from counselling, too, to reassure them that they did the best they possibly could, under the circumstances at that time.
There are other scenarios that bring equally as much heartache and drama. I have been aware of situations where a family home was sold and instead of the widow/er putting that money securely into a retirement situation, they moved in with one of the sibling's families and the money slowly dripped away (sometimes due to inflation). When the family could no longer handle the 'oldie' there wasn't enough money for a full care situation.
This sort of circumstance creates enormous family disputes and recriminations. The solutions are not easy and very costly. Those who thought they were helping feel abused as they sacrificed their lives for the 'oldie' while the others saw the money dripping away when it should have and could have been resolved years previously.
A recent widow said to my wife and I, that having witnessed her mother's situation, not unlike that described above, said she hopes she is wise enough and smart enough to downsize well before it becomes necessary.
Ecclesiastes 3 tells us from time immemorial that to everything, there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven, a time to be born and a time to die, a time to break down, a time to heal, and a time to embrace.....
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html