WSJ: Caring for an ailing parent is a life-changing event. Beyond the sadness and suffering, the experience can teach caregiving children a lot about toughness, perseverance and especially love. WSJ contributor Dave Shiflett shares his story on Lunch Break with Tanya Rivero.
My father was born and died at home. Nearly 91 years separated those two days, as did a lifetime of significant experiences, including one Great Depression, one World War, one wife, three children, and one year at my house, where he, accompanied by my mother, went through hospice during his struggle with dementia.
Our family’s experience was hardly unique. Around 5 million Americans suffer from dementia of some type (Alzheimer’s disease is the most prominent) and up to half of Americans over the age of 85 are afflicted. As our population ages, tens of millions of Americans will be called on to care for stricken parents. Over 15 million nonprofessionals are estimated to provide Alzheimer’s care alone.
What can families expect?
Like all extreme experiences, caring for Dad changed our lives. Dementia is a terrible disease that robs its victims of their memories, their good nature and much of their dignity. Children of suffering parents will see many things they wish they hadn’t, and they may learn things about themselves that aren’t always flattering.
But that’s not the whole story. Even in the sadness of hopeless decline, my parents—members in good standing of the Greatest Generation—had a few things to teach their baby-boomer offspring about toughness, perseverance, quality of life and, especially, love. We were reminded, vividly, that we are often at our best when life is at its worst.