Mom & Dad, Inc.
I’ve always joked with friends about how my parents have been preparing me for their death since I was five. In fact, as a little girl, my mom and aunt would playact that Mom had fallen ill and couldn’t get up. While Mom lay on the living room floor, my aunt would yell “Help, Help! Nancy call the doctor: Mom needs help!” Using my trusty red plastic dialup telephone strategically placed on the coffee table by where Mom was lying, I’d dial 911 and tell the make-believe doctor to come quickly as Mom was dead on the floor and needed help, NOW! My aunt would run to the front door and clang the long brass tubes that were our doorbell, alerting me that the doctor had magically arrived at our front door for me to let in so he could revive Mom. Of course, I’d get praised for a great job while they went off to laugh, relax, and share a smoke together.
As I got older, I was told where critical documents were kept in file cabinets; names, phone numbers, business cards, what local banks we used, even personal introductions to the family attorney, accountant, financial advisor – and what was in each account. I got pop quizzes on all of this. At the time I thought this was a bit overkill. Looking back, I understand how life’s tragedies, such as the passing of their parents, and later my sister at age four made it imperative to them that I be able to carry the torch, on my own, if necessary.
As the eldest daughter, I was prepared at an early age to become the caregiver they now need. Over the last nine years my sister and I have gone through a steep learning curve. We’ve learned that nothing can totally prepare you for what’s needed to physically, mentally, or financially to take over the care of a parent or loved one. I first wrapped my head, heart, and hands around this idea (which later became a substantial and complex project) after my husband drew my attention to small changes in Mom’s conversations.
Later, after utilities were cut off for failure to pay bills – which was always Mom’s responsibility, while Dad ran the business – reality and the need for action kicked in fast. With their first move into Assisted Living (this move was their choice as they both said “we don’t want to be a burden on you kids), Dad called me in a panic five days from their move-in date. He’d been blindsided by Mom, thinking they had two more months to go. I jumped into the deep end, learned to swim, and have been doing laps ever since.
Doing the backstroking has become much easier with practice. We who care for our parents have learned to manage in our own way – often only with subtle differences. My approach is to take charge of ‘Mom & Dad, Inc.’, complete with a team of caregivers who are with them 24/7. Doing this work long-distance isn’t easy, and Mom, Dad, and our amazing ladies are always on my mind, and in my heart. There have been some bumps and bruises along the way for all of us, but I managed to acquire some life and business lessons along the way. I’ve shared my journey with friends, family, and strangers. Having heard my story and faced similar situations, many have asked themselves: “What would Nancy do?”
As an entrepreneur I’ve learned much from walking alongside Dad at his factory and getting to know his employees, customers, and industry colleagues. Without knowing it, he and Mom have been the cartographers for my own exploration and learning. Watching them flourish (or sometimes deteriorate, but they always spring back) from my decisions, I manage Mom & Dad Inc. like a well-oiled enterprise: overseeing their welfare; hiring and firing various ‘’professionals;’’ identifying vulnerabilities; and removing the weakest links quickly, in medical, legal, financial, daily care, and even supply chain services.
All the while, I’m keeping a focus that this is personal for them, as well as for my sister and me. This has become my nature. Running a business and advising large company leaders, CEOs, and boards is a walk in the park compared to managing the business of being a caregiver. Working this way has helped me keep everything in perspective without becoming an emotional wreck – although I’ve had those moments too. My commitment to doing what’s good, healthy, and right for Mom and Dad has become an obsession. Like the service that I deliver to my corporate clients, I give the best guidance and support to others who become overwhelmed by what it takes to be a caregiver: courage, character, and confidence to keep your head high when the day presents dark clouds and fears creep into your mind. This is a tough road for anyone. Society shuns the elder caregiver, not knowing what to do with and for us.
It’s why I’ve started sharing options, opportunities, and positive outcomes that have helped others in a new FaceBook group called Eldercare Success!
Here is a wonderful tale of someone who, thanks in part to her parents’ prepping, found a way to see the work of caregiving as an act of love and growth, to go along with the sweat and angst. There is no putting a shine on how difficult the work can be, but it’s also important to trumpet the joys and triumphs too. And it’s also important to call out the need for more societal support, heretofore lacking. Thanks to efforts like Nancy’s, and her willingness to come out of this closet, we maybe we are heading for better, less lonely days. Caregiving is something to be proud of, just as needing care is the most normal, least shameful thing in the world.
-BJ Miller, MD