As a social worker and specialist in managing services for older people, I thought I knew almost everything about their needs. I was the ‘go-to person’ who understood the issues my friends and colleagues were facing with their elderly parents.
My own mother had poor health throughout her adult life. In contrast, my Dad enjoyed good health and looked after Mum until he turned 80 and his own health began to deteriorate.
I love my parents and wanted to help as they became frailer and less able to do things for themselves. I felt it was my last chance to show my love and to help them as they had once helped me. This reversal of child and parent roles wasn’t always easy and there was sometimes a tension between trying to do my best for them and wanting to live my own life.
My involvement with both my parents increased as their ability to function decreased and they became more dependent.
Eventually Dad's health deteriorated to the point where he was unable to care for Mum any longer. And just over a year ago she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and admitted to a care home. Having supported her wish to remain at home with my father, the guilt and emotional turmoil I felt were extraordinary and something I never anticipated.
When Dad's health declined further, I moved in to care for him to avoid him being admitted to hospital. Sadly he passed away the day after his 90th birthday and I feel privileged to have been with him when he died.
I was stunned by the intense emotion behind caring for my parents. Of watching my father decline and dealing with my own (and my mother's) unmet expectations about her moving into a care home, while at the same time coping with my own grief over losing Dad and supporting Mum with hers.
Helping our parents make life-changing decisions can be painful and should not be underestimated. Despite my expertise, the past year didn’t turn out at all as I expected: in the end I learnt more from the journey with my parents than from all my professional qualifications and years of experience put together.
Read more from Chris Moon-Willems in her new book Relative Matters or on twitter @ChrisMoonW