Coping with Aging Parents

by Gigi Ross on June 19, 2013

I have aging parents.

They are 78 and 76.

So when Ashley from It’s Fitting sent me this post last week, it hit home – a little too close. Watching our parents age is, I think, one of the most difficult things one can go through. She sums up so well all of the feelings I’ve had over the last ten years.


Read Ashley’s Story

I was living in LA when I got the call.

“Ash, your Dad has Parkinson’s.”

I sat there in stunned silence, disbelief. We knew that something had been wrong, thought maybe a stroke, or just slowing down with age a little bit. But the diagnosis was in, staring me in the face. Parkinson’s… My Dad… Parkinson’s… Shit.

It was the first time in my life that my parent’s mortality flashed before my eyes. That there was a diagnosis for one of them that would carry them through the rest of their lives. Something that wouldn’t ever go away. Something that would cause an eventual decline in all of their faculties, until the end.

I moved home to be with them but it was hard, moving back in after having been gone for years at college and in Los Angeles. I was adrift, unclear on the future and what this diagnosis meant short and long term for my father’s health. Then 2 months after I moved home, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Yeah, it was one of THOSE years…

I felt selfish, concerned with how all this was going to affect me and the rest of my life. I was scared, faced with the questions that come as our parents age. What will happen? What kind of care are they going to need? What am I going to do without them? I was an only child, single, no boyfriend, no family of my own and I was scared at the prospect of being alone in the world. I was so scared of a future without them.

My mother recovered. A long summer of a double mastectomy and reconstruction. A long summer of taking care of HER for a change, the roles reversed. Taking her to doctor’s appointments, making them both meals, nurturing and providing for them like they always did for me.

My father’s illness has taken a different course than we expected. For years the Parkinson’s only resulted in a little slow-down, a tremor here and there and dyskinesia from the meds. But the emotional toll on everyone has been heavy. I dealt with all of it, the anger and frustration from my mother that Dad can’t do the same things anymore, that he is more forgetful and off balance and oh-so stubborn about his limitations. I have dealt with the emotion from my father, his grief at seeing his own decline, his own mortality looming large. All this while meeting the man who became my husband, getting married and having two children.

It’s been ten years since that initial diagnosis. Ten years of anger and frustration, of heartbreak. Ten years later and the disease has crawled instead of run. His decline has been so, so very slow and we know we are lucky. But lately, it’s begun to speed up, to manifest itself more markedly. And we’ve started to ask the hard questions of what the future may hold. Where will they live in a few years? What are realistic expectations for what he will be able to do? How do you tell him that it’s time to take away his license, his ability to get away and control his own life?

As our parents age, the roles reverse. We are the caretakers now, the ones who bear the heavy load of responsibility. We do it willingly and with love, but the change is hard and heartbreaking and doesn’t come without a fight. They grasp for the right to control their own lives, get angry at our “interference” and we argue. So many words, spoken in anguish and frustration. So many feelings and emotions. So hard to see the people that were your whole world growing up, grow smaller, weaker, more in need of help.

The only thing to do is carry on. To communicate with each other about the future. Candor may be uncomfortable, but is key so you know what they want from the rest of their lives. Conversations that you never wanted to have with your parents must be had…

And all you can do is hold on a little tighter, a little longer and keep loving them like they’ve always loved you.

Ashley is the creator of It’s Fitting, the place where she blogs about life as the big city girl who moved to a small chicken town and got… you guessed it, chickens. 2 kids, 6 chickens and a dying veggie garden later, she’s a major supporter (read: consumer) of the wine industry.

Watch Women Discuss Coping With Aging Parents

Now that you’ve read Ashley’s story, watch the live discussion we had on this very topic. It’s one you won’t want to miss.

Ashley Fitting |
Carolyn West |
Sili Recio |
Diedre Smith |
Alli Ward |


Elizabeth Flora Ross June 19, 2013 at 4:44 am

Oh, Ashley! This hits so close to home for me. My father has dementia. Watching the disease take over his mind has been the most painful thing I have ever experienced. Supporting my mom and she struggles to deal with it has exhausted me physically and emotionally. It all comes down to this:

“And all you can do is hold on a little tighter, a little longer and keep loving them like they’ve always loved you.”

Beautifully said. Thank you for sharing your story. I have found writing to be an essential release during this time:

Through it I have connected with people who understand what I am going through, and that is so helpful.

Ashley @ It's Fitting June 19, 2013 at 7:31 am

Elizabeth – it is so damn hard for everyone involved. I can’t imagine what you are going through with the dementia, it must be so difficult to have him change and start to descend into it but you’re right, finding people who can support you is amazing, and so necessary.

Ann June 19, 2013 at 7:44 am

I’ve been going through this same thing for the past year; I lost my father in December and now my step-dad is in the hospital-facing the prospect of not being able to return home.
Loss is something we all have to deal with (or not deal with, but that’s another story). All I can say is that a good support system is so important–dont be afraid to ask for help; even if its just to pick up a cheeseburger from McDonald’s.
I hope I can attend the hangout tomorrow, because even thought I’m in the midst of going through this same thing–it doesn’t mean I don’t want or need help.

Ashley @ It's Fitting June 19, 2013 at 8:42 am

Ann – it’s so true that it’s something we all have to deal with… and I must admit that I’m not particularly good at dealing with it. I haven’t experienced a whole lot of loss in my life and I don’t process it very well. Obviously something I need to work on better, and could do with a little help.

Robbie June 19, 2013 at 8:22 am

It is so damn hard and heartbreaking. My parents have had a few health scares & hospitalizations over the last few years but now it’s like a speeding train. This is our new reality and I hate it. I’m thousands of miles away which magnifies it for me.

Ashley @ It's Fitting June 19, 2013 at 8:45 am

Robbie, I totally get the being far away. We moved away from my hometown about 3.5 years ago and all I could think of was that it was a TERRIBLE time… but we did it because it was best for my family and OUR lives. Such a struggle.

Jackie June 19, 2013 at 9:16 am

This is so difficult… I still see and think of my parents as they were 20 or more years ago, but each year brings something new and I am seeing them less and less in that light. I don’t like it and I guess I’m being selfish too in thinking what am I going to do without them.
Thankfully, nothing to bad has happened health wise and I hope that day never comes.

Bethany (Bad Parenting Moments) June 19, 2013 at 10:28 am

I feel so fortunate that my parents are young and healthy; however, my step-mother is currently in the throes of dealing with an onslaught of medical and emotional issues directly related to her mother’s official dementia diagnosis only 3 months ago. She has deteriorated so quickly. Her home care nurse has left. It’s been heartbreaking to watch she and her sister struggle to make the tough yet necessary decisions. We never want to imagine our parents as feeble and needing our care. The role reversal is so difficult to absorb in our psyche. Love to you and your family as you move forward, Ashley.

Hillary June 19, 2013 at 11:10 am

My mom had to go through this with my grandma. My grandma had dementia and completely went back to being a little girl. Like, changing diapers, bathing, and making sure she didn’t shop-lift. It was really hard, but then there were sweet moments too.

I think this is something that doesn’t really get discussed all that much. Probably because it’s not fun to think about. Thank you for sharing your story.

Andie @ Esthetician Careers June 19, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Feel so glad that my mom and dad are still young and healthy. Thanks for sharing this blog post.

Jessica June 19, 2013 at 5:46 pm

My parents are young but my husband’s are not, his mother is actually deceased. It makes me realize how fortunate I am that they are young and still healthy. It must be so difficult to watch them age.

Joyce Joneschiet January 8, 2014 at 5:01 pm

Gigi & Ashley,

thanks so much for sharing your struggles and your feelings on this subject. I’m also a family caregiver. My folks are 85 and 89, experiencing dementia, stroke and general weakness. I’m taking over more and more responsibilities and have been the sole driver for the last year. I think the hardest thing is the transition from child to parenting your parents. My own girls are out of the nest but it’s hard to realize you’re not done!

I publish a blog and magazine on this subject as an interior designer that specializes in helping folks to stay home longer in safe and beautiful environments. My own folks are my inspiration!

thanks again! I plan on publishing an excerpt of this post & video to draw more traffic to your site and help you get the word out.


Gigi Ross January 8, 2014 at 5:13 pm

Thanks for such a wonderful comment! We appreciate your reading/watching, and for the shout out :)

Joyce Joneschiet January 8, 2014 at 5:24 pm
Ashley @ It's Fitting January 16, 2014 at 10:38 am

Joyce, thank you so much for sharing this with your readers! I know that there are so many people out there dealing with the same questions and frustrations…

JD @ Honest Mom January 15, 2014 at 6:28 pm

My dad had a stroke when he was 65 and dealing with it was very scary and frustrating. I am an only child and lived far away from my parents, and felt that my mom was not asking all the right questions of the doctors. Besides that frustration, it was heartbreaking to hear my dad tell me that when he looked at the clock, he couldn’t understand what it said. He was scared, my mom was scared, I was scared. It was a tough time.

Lots of post-stroke therapy got my dad almost back to himself. Then a second stroke claimed his life a year later. I still struggle with the idea that if I was there, perhaps it could have been different. I could have been on top of his doctors, done something different, monitored his meds. I don’t know…

Now my (healthy) mom is living on her own, still far away from me. She wants to stay where she is and I understand. She visits often but I still wish she were nearby. And yes, we have had those tough conversations about end-of-life stuff – yuck. But since I’m the only child, it’s all on me. It does stink – I get it.

Oh, and two of my relatives have early-onset Parkinsons. So I get that too. Thinking of you, Ashley!

Ashley @ It's Fitting January 16, 2014 at 10:46 am

It’s so hard to want to be in control and not be able to be. I made the choice to move 500 miles away from my parents, but still get frustrated when I think that things should be happening with my dad’s care that aren’t. My biggest regret is that my frustration manifests itself with impatience towards both of them. That he isn’t taking care of himself the way that he should be, and that’s BOTH of their fault. When in reality, you can’t make someone do what they don’t want to do… however much you want to try.
I am lucky that he has a great team of doctors and my mom is very knowledgable about the things that need to be happening… but things change on a daily basis around there and it’s hard not to be there, helping them make the decisions.

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