My parents are 73 years old. My in-laws are 69 and 70. I am fortunate to have all four of these wonderful people in my life — and healthy. To be honest, I had not yet started to give any thought to having to one day care for them, given their advancing age.
And then the world got hit with a pandemic, sending our lives as we knew them into a whirlwind of uncertainty and confusion, incredulity and panic, faith and fear, and on and on like a massive record-breaking rollercoaster only suitable for self-described thrill-seekers.
All of a sudden, this almost-40-year-old mom of two (that’s me) thought to herself, “Oh my goodness, what if my parents get it?” And anxiety set in. A kind of anxiety I had not experienced before. One that makes me feel scared and ill-equipped. One that makes me angry when people do not heed the warnings and recommendations of health officials. One that makes me feel impotent.
We have probably all heard that older adults are at a higher risk of experiencing the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), with worse symptoms than younger adults and children. What’s worse, older adults may end up in intensive care units and/or actually die. I thought I had another ten or so years before I had to worry about my healthy and active parents needing care-taking or needing me to worry about them. But this coronavirus had other plans.
So what can we do when this anxiety creeps in and we feel like we do not have the tools to handle it?
Take a moment to acknowledge what you are feeling, and let yourself name and feel the emotions coming up. Breathe. Tell yourself (and try to do this until you believe it), that you will be able to handle whatever does happen, but that in this moment, if your parents are still doing OK, all you can do is support them in remaining that way.
2. Follow the recommendations of health officials where you live — seriously.
And encourage your parents to do the same. If your parents live nearby you can stay abreast of their situation and be there for them if they need you. If your parents live far away you can stay in touch via phone, chat, Facetime, etc., and see how they are doing, providing support and/or reminders as needed.
3. Reach out to friends for advice.
Think of friends or neighbors you know who have already been in a situation where they had to care for their parents due to illness and/or old age. Reach out to them. Ask them to share their tools with you. And here I suggest you not only ask for practical things to do and ways to handle the situation, but also for ideas on taking care of yourself as you navigate this new territory.
4. Have faith.
Whether you are religious or spiritual, tap into your belief system to help you find a way to let go of the added feelings of responsibility and anxiety around this. There is only so much we can do. So we do what we can, and we let go of the rest. Much easier said than done, but in these times especially, we do not have much of a choice but to be the people our parents need us to be — their adult children who are here to support them if and when they need us, to the best of our abilities, and with all our love.