As you may or may not know, my father-in-law, Eric’s father, recently passed away. There was a long period of our life that was dedicated to his care; in fact, as time went on, more and more of our time was centered around taking care of him. We’re very thankful we had this opportunity to care for him, even unto death in our home. We’ve come to recognize that a huge part of our identity as a couple and as individuals is a deep belief in taking care of people, including aging parents, in our home. I don’t think anyone can realize the impact of having someone in your home who’s dying — the impact it can have not just on your home, but on your relationship. Now that dad has passed, we realize that if (and most likely when) we do this with another parent, we have to keep in check and focus our needs, so that we can best care for those who depend on us.
Just like any time in life, date nights are important — but they are absolutely crucial when you’re caring for loved ones. The need for a tribe around you is also essential, whether that means you hire outside help, or vulnerably ask friends and family to step in for periods of time, getting support is essential to the health of your relationship. Be aware that you may have different personal needs during this time. For instance, I needed a lot more alone time during this period in our lives, because my home was never, ever empty. I needed to sequester myself (for a time) in my room every single day, in order to be present when I was with people.
One thing I wish I would have done differently: seeking professional help around the emotions we were going through. It wasn’t until the very end that I was able to acknowledge my frustration to Eric, and then do the soul care needed to find the place in my heart to reach out and love his father in the way that I know myself to love others. I wish I had done that earlier. When we take care of our own souls and our own needs, that makes us able to love in the way that we want to love — instead of letting bitterness and resentment sneak into any of our relationships.
I’m so grateful that, before the end of Dad’s life, I came to a place where I was able to really love on him and treasure time with him. If and when you find yourself caring for an aging parent, please don’t wait as long as I did — find someone to talk to about your emotions, hire professional help, and make sure your emotional needs are being met. That will be better for you, for your relationship, and ultimately much more healthy for the person you’re caring for.