“It was just a little incident.”

There are millions of stories of close calls: fires in the kitchen, falls and injuries, bounced checks, car accidents, phone calls for help. Usually there’s a slow build-up of accidents, often for several years. Caregivers are prone to feel guilt during this stage—wondering if they are giving their elder the best care they can, and being forced to come to terms with how much they are willing to sacrifice. Grief, anger, terror, anxiety, and a huge sense of loss are often experienced by both the parent and caregiver each time something happens—a stroke; a fall, a heart attack.

Most of us are not prepared for this. How can we be? Often we hope or pray that our elder will return to better health, and many times they do for brief periods. Then there are reassurances from the elder that everything is, indeed, okay: “It was just a little incident.”

Because denial is an unconscious defense mechanism that protects us from fear, we often have to be shaken awake. These occurrences and close calls are part of this stage of life and serve the purpose of waking us up to the imminence of our elder’s dependency. At the same time they force us to become stronger and more equipped to face the eventual dying and death of our elder, and maybe even our own death.

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