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Ask Alma: Taking Care of My Elderly Parents Is Taking a Toll

By Alma Gill (NNPA Newswire Columnist)

Dear Alma:

I am a 64 year-old divorced woman who lives with my father. Some years ago, when my marriage fell apart, and Mom was diagnosed with dementia, I moved back home to help my dad with her. I was also working part-time, so I couldn’t afford my own apartment. Two years ago, Dad and I could no longer care for Mom at home, so we put her in a care facility, and I retired. During this time, I have made new friends, three of them live in the state of New Mexico. A few months ago, I went to visit these friends, and fell in love with New Mexico. The cost of living isn’t as high as it is here, and the laid-back, small city life seems to mesh well with my personality. I feel this is the place I am meant to live the rest of my life. My problem is that Dad is 87, and I’m leery of moving hundreds of miles away, knowing there are some thugs in the neighborhood, who may try to break into the house once they learn Dad is there alone. Although I have a sister, she has never been there for our parents the way I have been. In fact, our parents haven’t seen her in seven years. Some friends and relatives say I should go for it, since I’m divorced and childless, and also reminding me I’m no longer a young woman. Then, there are those who feel I’m being selfish for wanting to make this move and finally live my own life. Am I wrong?

New Mexico is Calling Me

Dear New Mexico,

Hello, my darling, thank you for taking the time to email me and to allow me the privilege to weigh-in on your situation. It takes a special person to care for elderly and/or invalid family members. I’m sending a big hug your way.

I want to start by sharing that my mom lived with me and my family for the last two years of her life. She had come to a place where she could no longer live alone. Was my life on hold? Yes, but I wouldn’t take a dime for that time, as I’m sure, neither would you. You’ve already lived through the thick of it, so, there isn’t much more I could share with you about the “role reversal” regarding parental care. It’s hard, it’s thankless and it’s heartbreakingly some of the best times you’ll spend with your parents, unconditionally caring for them as they did for you. It’s an honor for us, but not so much for strong-willed parents. Their eyes always seem to see you as the child they raised. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how many children you have or how many times you’ve been married. LOL.

I can’t help but think, now that your mom’s gone on to glory, that you should continue to be there for your dad. Don’t abandon him now. Stay, give him the same love and commitment you gave to your mother. Your dad, I take it, doesn’t need as much attention, but that shouldn’t determine your decision. You’re doing it just, because it’s the right thing to do. Is it selfish for you to want a break, to want to relocate and start living your own life? Absolutely not at all, that’s normal and you have every right to feel that way.

You’ve been an attentive, dedicated and loving daughter…don’t stop now. There’s no need to relocate, just yet. Take care of your Dad and, every three months or so, go visit your friends for a week or two. Sadly, when your dad’s no longer with us—it’ll be time to make your move.

I don’t have either one of my parents anymore, and I regret the extra time I missed spending with them every day, because I was busy, I had a family, I had people to see, places to go, things to do. So, trust me, you’ll never regret putting your life on hold by choosing to honor your mother and father. God is watching and will undoubtedly grant you the desires of your heart. Hold on a little longer, your day is coming. You gave and it will be given back to you in good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.

Alma Gill’s newsroom experience spans more than 25 years, including various roles at USA Today, Newsday and The Washington Post. Email questions to: alwaysaskalma@gmail.com. Follow her on Facebook at “Ask Alma” and Twitter @almaaskalma.

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