I am a 42-year-old only child. I’ve had a close relationship with my parents my whole life. My mom passed away six years ago from lung cancer and my dad is in his 70s.
My dad is a “young” older man, in that, he is always doing something – building a garden bed, laying down a new floor, climbing ladders to change light bulbs or to fix a ceiling fan. He works part-time. His social life is more active than mine. In my mind, he can do anything.
Before my mom passed away, she was very active too – very independent and a take charge kind of lady. When I called her, she would most likely be creating something or out with a close friend.
I used to think my parents were indestructible. But, when you are an adult, no matter how active your parents are, the truth is, they are going to get sick. Sometimes they will get so sick, they will end up needing care that they cannot provide themselves at home.
I have received the “I’m in the hospital/Urgent Care/ER” call many, many times. Here are some things I have learned to do…
- Do not freak out. It’s hard. So hard. But, when your parent tells you about whatever is wrong, try not to freak out about it. Imagine being in your parent’s shoes. It’s probably hard enough for them to share what they are telling with you in the first place and then if you start freaking out, they have to go into parent mode. Just say, “Let me know what you need me to do. I love you.” Hang up and then freak out.
- Do not Google. If they know exactly what is wrong (or even if they don’t), don’t Google the thing, the symptoms, anything. It will make it a thousand times worse for you to sit at home and worry about your parent. Wait until you know the actual facts.
- Go to the appointments. If possible, try to go to the follow-up doctor’s appointments. When my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer, it was traumatic for all of us. Everyone in my immediate family (myself, my mom, and my dad) went to as many appointments together as possible. That way, there were three sets of ears listening. Take notes. If the doctor is OK with it, it’s not a bad idea to record these appointments. I wish I had done that. You can go back and listen and contact the doctor later with questions.
- After you know more facts, THEN do some research. But, don’t just go down Google/discussion board/Facebook group blackholes. Go to reliable websites. Start with something like American Cancer Society or the American Heart Association. Find the national, local, official website for whatever the issue is and start there. You may find out about support groups or resources that will help you and your parent. Ask the doctor for places you can go for research. If you have a different, trusted medical professional you can talk to, ask them. Ask a reference librarian at the public library for resources. Ask experts – not strangers.
- Do little things. If your parents are nearby, go grocery shopping for them – or use a service like Shipt if you do not live close. (Oh, and put everything away, maybe even make some meals that can be frozen for later. And clean everything up too. It’s easy to revert to old ways since it’s your parents’ house, but don’t be the kid, be the adult.) Make a playlist of songs or funny YouTube videos they can watch if they need chemo, or something that will keep them sitting still for awhile. Just sit with them. Give them your time.
- If your parent ends up in the hospital, make sure the doctor knows who you are. Sort of like going to those doctor’s appointments, when the doctor comes in for an update, your parent may either be half asleep or feeling a little overwhelmed and may not understand the updates or really be able to share with you what was said. Meet the doctors and the nurses. Give them your phone number. Call them and ask for updates. Be proactive.
- Speaking of hospital stays … write down your information on the white board that is typically in a hospital room. I even like to put funny pictures or jokes up there. I think it’s good to make an impression. I want to do whatever it takes to get the best care for my parent in the hospital. I think spreading kindness can help. I also always bring a bowl of chocolate to leave in my parent’s room and at the nurse’s desk. We’ve bought lunch/dinner for the nurses on duty. I’m not saying you have to go crazy, but I think you are more likely to get information you need and an extra pillow, at least, if you are kind. It’s just human nature. Also, those men and women spend their days surrounded by folks who are sick and family members who are anxious – they deserve a little treat too.
- Bring a goodie bag. You’ve brought chocolates and things to the nurses, now bring some things to your parent. Things I have found to be well received are – snacks (depending on what your parent is doing in the hospital … they may only be able to eat broth or something, so check), magazines, a cord to charge devices, socks, clean underwear, a nice robe, a pillow from home, a blanket from home, toilet paper from home. No plants or stuffed animals. You don’t want your parent to have something they need to take care of and also, what’s a 73-year-old man going to do with a teddy bear?
- Make sure you are listed as a person who can receive information on hospital and medical forms.
- Know where all of the important documents are. Not to say you will need them, but better to know then to be blindsided. Where are the wills? What are your parents wishes in case something happens? Those are hard conversations to have, but you need to have them.