As we all move ahead in our own unique journey, there is a time when living with Chronic Pain, along with the inevitable physical decline aging imposes upon us all, that the issue of safety becomes paramount. For those of us with serious chronic medical conditions, decisions regarding safety become pressing and must be addressed, hopefully prior to any type of incident which might compromise our physical and emotional well-being. One must decide as to how to plan to remain as safe as possible in the future. We all face this, medical issues or not, but it’s even more concerning when you are dependent on a wide variety of medical help to be in a maintain a safe environment. While the decision to address the issue of safety by changing living arrangements is often emotionally draining, hopefully, options are available to you that include either remaining in your home for the rest of your lives with support or downsizing to a smaller house, apartment, condo, elderly housing or assisted living. The bottom line is, someday, you must begin that difficult discussion we all would love to avoid. What is the safest and most feasible way in your final stage of life? I wonder if your life will lead to what has happened to us.
Before my twenty-fourth surgery, a second fusion of the neck, I was experiencing catatonic episodes. All I could do was hold on tight to life for the surgery date to come. It was terribly stressful time not only for myself but for my whole family as I attempted with all the physical and emotional energy in my being to hold on for that repair that came in time to save my life. But meanwhile, the experience of watching me become unresponsive in front of those I loved created a form of PTSD for myself, my husband, and our entire family. If my husband stepped out to swim and tried calling me to check-in and I didn’t answer the call, panic crept right into him. The best I could do was keep that phone right by my side anticipating that check-in call so I could relieve any concern as fast as possible. But when during one of these episodes we were not able to locate my husband, my oldest son and wife took control, stayed by my side and in time, rode with me in the ambulance to the hospital in the desperation of not knowing what to do to help me.
So now on to the good of this story - surgery finally happened and after recovery, my health has much improved along with the quality of my life. Although it took months for me to recuperate physically and for the family to heal emotionally from the horrible episodes, it led to our oldest son and wife offering to have us move into their home. In my years of raising our four sons, never once in my mind did, I imagine one of them would want to take the responsibility for their aging parents and especially me, living with a progressive, incurable condition. But the offer came and after weighing out our options, we decided to take them up on it. In time, we sold the farm and made the move to the safety of their home. The move kept us in the same town, still near dear friends and to a new, clean and easy to take care of space that we are just thrilled with.
We had no idea how all this would work out. We didn’t want to invade their space, didn’t want to interfere with their lifestyle, and certainly didn’t want to become a burden - for this was their time to live life to the fullest while young, healthy and full of adventure. But we leaned towards what it offered - safety, help if needed, remaining in our town and state where all my medical help is and the extra bonus joy of being closer to their son, our first grandson. We certainly had feelings of anxiety in the process of this transition. It became a mixed bag of emotion as the aging process forced us to confront the rather unfamiliar feelings which so often accompany loss, physical decline and aging!
But for those of you considering an option like this, understand that this can work out. We observe firsthand that their life is just packed with responsibility so occasionally, we invite them for dinner to help ease their burden. My husband, who is used to and loves working outside, has been able to mow the grass and keep the yard neat. And the new garden that another son came home to create for us has also provided healthy food and fresh flowers for the two families. When the other sons and families come home to visit - we have an instant reunion!
As mentioned before, it never occurred to me that a child you raised would consider taking on the responsibility of helping their parents to remain safe in their final years of life. One simple door between our home exists in the case that day ever comes that we need help. We will continue to count our blessings to have this new home of security and safety and never lose sight of the sacrifice they have made in their lives to make this happen. Families caring for each other should be a very natural and rewarding experience. Hopefully, other young adults can, as our son did, perceive this as an opportunity, not just a burden. May other young adults think about how they can help their parents and be willing to be selfless like our son and wife have done.
May life be kind to you,
Ellen Lenox Smith
Author of: It Hurts Like Hell!: I Live With Pain- And Have a Good Life, Anyway, and My Life as a Service Dog!
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report.