Christmas with my family is the one time of year we all come together, no matter what we’ve been doing with our lives. My older sister Beck is the ‘responsible’ one in the family, well, the most responsible out of us. Even though we are all adults, she’s just always had it together. So it’s pretty fitting that Christmas is held at her house annually.
Two years ago, our Christmas seemed like any other; we all headed to Beck’s house. When my family and I arrived the majority of everyone was already there, including Mum and Dad. I said ‘hi’ to my Mum with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, then stretched out my hand to shake Dad’s. His hand met mine with the usual firm grip as he said, “Great to see you Keiran!” Keiran?! My name is Matt. Interestingly enough Dad proceeded around the room confidently greeting everyone…with the wrong name. People were polite, Mum occasionally corrected him but I seemed to be the only one who noticed that he did it to everyone.
As our lunch progressed, Dad kept going. He spent an hour in conversation with our family, constantly calling us by the wrong name. Even referring to me with my son’s name at one point. Mum continued to correct him subtly and we all continued to be polite and slightly ignorant of something that was obviously an issue.
December 26th I called Beck, “Did you notice Dad during Christmas?” I asked her. “What do you mean?” she queried. “Well, he called everyone the wrong name for our whole lunch!” I replied. “Right. Well, Matt I did notice it a little but he’s getting older. It’s to be expected. Mum and Dad are fit; they don’t seem that old but little things like this are bound to happen. Probably just a bad day.” She was in denial for an issue I could already see. “Beck, if you could just talk to them, they live on 7 acres all to themselves. Maybe we could just ask them to downsize or move closer to us.” After a little thought Beck agreed that this wasn’t the worst idea. I figured she was the oldest and most level headed, she would be the best to talk to them. In hindsight this wasn’t the right way to handle the situation at all.
So Beck went to my parent’s house a few days later for her routine morning tea with Mum, to see where they were at health wise and to talk about the possibility of downsizing. It definitely didn’t go to plan. Beck left Mum and Dad’s with the news that they were fine and absolutely not at all ever going to move. Here’s the thing I’ve learnt about these discussions; they are unexpected and you need to be prepared before you have them. Beck went in with the idea that my parents had to move and that wasn’t ever the case. Anyway, we decided not to push the issue.
Eight months later I caught a lift to a Christening with Mum and Dad - Dad was driving. It was a suburb he’d grown up in and knew like the back of his hand…yet Mum was directing him. She was subtly telling him every turn and which exit to take on the round-about. It was interesting; she must have known he was beginning to forget but she didn’t want to tell us. Why? Was she frightened that he’d end up in a home or that he’d get taken away from her? We’d never do that to them. Then I realised, we approached the situation asking them to move, she probably felt like she couldn’t tell us because she wasn’t sure what our response would be and she was just too afraid to risk it.
My parents still live in their home, with no help. I’m hoping that after the Christmas that just passed, I’ll be able to sit down and have a chat with them. So what did I learn from this? Firstly, it’s okay that your parents might forget your name sometimes with age but if you’re going to talk to them and try to help them, make sure you know what you’re trying to talk to them about. Don’t turn up at their door and ask them to downsize if they don’t want to. Do your research. I’ve found out now that there are options for home care and help in the home after jumping online. It was easy to find. There were all these amazing services that can keep my parents at home and independent. My parents can have an affordable amount of domestic assistance once a week without needing to change the lives they love. If you do have the opportunity to talk to your parents, take it but take it slow and ensure they get the help they need and you get the peace of mind that they’re going to be okay.