Even though taking care of an aging loved one — or being the aging loved one yourself, in need of help — can be overwhelming at times and scary at others, Andy Wade encourages people to keep the experience in perspective.
“Life is not a series of crises or problems to be solved … It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with the task, or the problems, or the frustrations or whatever it is that you’re dealing with, that we forget that at the core (of caregiving) is love. At the core (of caregiving) is our relationship with one another.”
Wade, a Mennonite Pastor and Warming Shelter volunteer, presented to a group of about 20 gathered in FISH Food Bank’s meeting room Wednesday afternoon for the first of a three-part brown bag lunch presentation series, co-hosted by Gorge Ecumenical Ministries (GEM) and Aging in the Gorge Alliance (AGA), about caring for an aging loved one.
“This journey can be so complex and convoluted, we need to hear stories from others,” Wade said. “…We need to hear each other’s stories because in each other’s stories we’ll hear of road-bumps and potholes along the way, and maybe, just maybe it’ll help us anticipate those a little bit, and help us prepare.”
Wade spoke about his experience taking care of his aging grandmother and the ups and downs that came with it — including her death, which, against her wishes, occurred at the hospital following a stroke. “Although the hospital wasn’t her choice, it actually turned out pretty well,” he said, as friends were able to come and say goodbye, which might not have happened if she had died at home.
“I didn’t know that at the time, I didn’t see that at the time,” he said, “when I realized that, at the hospital, there was actually a gift to be received, I was able to let go a little bit of my guilt.”
Wade stressed that, while everybody’s experience will be different, it is important to plan ahead as much as possible in order to avoid misunderstandings that could worsen a situation. One of the most important ways to prepare is talking with your loved ones about their wishes in different scenarios; and even though that conversation can be difficult, Wade said, “This is an act of love and an act of honoring your aging parents and loved ones.
 “The more that we can plan, the more that we can anticipate, the more that we can communicate, the more that we can become more aware of our emotions and our own limitations, the better prepared we’ll be — whether we’re the loved one that needs caring for or will need caring for, or the ones doing the caring — the better prepared we’ll be to have a successful and pretty smooth, hopefully, outcome,” he said.
Even if you’re already in the midst of caregiving for a loved one, Wade said, “it’s still possible to step back and take a breath and pause and reimagine this phase of life both for you and your aging loved one, or the other way around, if that’s your case.”
While Wade said that he wished he had taken more time to be truly present with his grandmother, he called his experience as her caregiver “a gift,” and encouraged others to adopt that mindset.
“There’s heartache in watching a loved one age. There is,” he said. “Acknowledging and embracing that pain is important, but even more, I think it’s important to flip a different switch in our brains and to recognize that this season of life, whether you’re going through it now or you’re going through it with a loved one, is a tremendous gift. It’s something that can open up deep, spiritual pathways that aren’t really available anywhere else.”
An attendee later commented on her experience caring for her aging parents, and on trying to prepare herself for their eventual deaths, saying, “I’m going to miss them so much but it’s just going to be so much easier because I’m taking care of them the best I can … and it is a privilege.”
The next two events in the series are scheduled to take place at the Hood River Valley Adult Center (2010 Sterling Place) both from noon to 1 p.m.; the next event is scheduled for Feb. 19, and will feature a presentation by Britta Wilson, MA in Gerontology and program coordinator for Volunteers in Action at Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, on environmental changes/adaptations that can make life easier and safer for elders; and in March, the team will guide participants through AARP’s “Prepare to Care,” a planning guide for families. Take-home resources will also be available, including Eldercare specialist Gail Goeller’s book, “Coming of Age with Aging Parents.”
For more information on upcoming events, visit GEM’s website, gorgeem.org.

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