No matter what age you are, seeing a parent in the hospital who's suffering from a serious condition is always a stressful and upsetting time. You feel helpless because they are helpless and vulnerable.
Whether it’s a stroke, a bad accident, a heart attack, breast cancer, or a parent needing a transplant, no matter the cause or illness, when a parent becomes sick, your life instantly changes. You’re forced to grow up in ways that you never imagined. In my case, my mam has bronchitis and a strain of cystic fibrosis which has made her lungs deteriorate beyond repair, leaving no option for her than to have a double lung transplant. It all began as a gradual thing while I was younger but in the last 8 years, the swiftness at how quick my mother’s illness came was scary, to say the least. She now struggles with mundane tasks that we with healthy lungs take for granted. Washing our hair, climbing the stairs in our house, brushing her teeth all require energy and the lung capacity that she just does not have. It’s an emotional rollercoaster to see your parents decline little by little. One minute you're angry at the situation, then you’re so sad for them and would give anything to take this illness upon yourself rather than watch them suffer, the next, the situation just completely overwhelms you with stress and worry. Sometimes, it’s just exhausting and you want to let go and be their child again but you may have to take the role of a responsible adult while they're in this powerless and helpless position, just as they did for you when you were young and vulnerable.
I have 3 brothers and a sister with special needs, but being kind of the eldest woman in the family, you take on a lot more responsibility. Although my dad is the best person my mam could have by her side through all this, he works full time to keep a roof over our heads and look after my mams medical expenses. My dad has also been poorly in his life having cancer 5 years ago, so I worry of him taking on too many duties and getting stressed out so I filled in for my mam from an early age. I try my best to make family life as easy as possible for my family. Morning times are particularly a difficult time of the day for mam. I start off by cleaning the house, doing the washing, preparing her breakfast, giving her daily tablets after she has finished on her nighttime ventilator, accompanying her to any doctors/hospital appointments and the endless hospital visits to see her and make sure she has company and just simply being her best friend and being there when she needs somebody to lean on emotionally. One thing that I really had a hard time coming to terms with is bathing my mam. I never imagined I would be bathing my mam at the early age of 50, but as hard as it was for me it was even harder for her as she felt great sadness that she couldn’t do such a simple task. I have devoted an incredible amount of my time and energy into making sure I can do for my mam what she has done for me all my life. Getting my mam through the day during a particularly vulnerable time in her life is my goal and she is my main priority as I and my siblings were her whole life. The role reversal certainly isn’t easy but I have learned through all the madness ways in which to cope which will hopefully reach and help anybody else in a similar situation.
There's much to be said for remaining positive, as best you can, in my situation. My mam may be fretting about the burden her situation has placed upon me. I know she’s not used to this role reversal after having spent a lifetime being the responsible adult for me so if she sees that I am coping and being positive, it can help alleviate some of that worry cause lets be honest she has enough to worry about. I always like to think of the positive in my mams illness. My mam has a second chance at life she has the opportunity of finding a perfect donor. There is always hope for her. I don’t try to think of the worries of the operation and the recovery, instead focusing on thinking and believing that it will all go well. Positive thinking, if nothing else, alleviates some of the wear and tear of stress on me.
Let things go – to an extent
If you normally go to the gym every evening but for the past three evenings you’ve been at the hospital every night ensuring mam has company, then cut yourself some slack. It’s okay to let things—like your workout routine, college work, cleaning etc.—go for the time being. If your job allows it, cut back on your normal workload so you have time to process the situation and help your parent to the best of your ability. When people ask you if you need help, be honest and say that you’re having trouble keeping up with the day-to-day tasks. You are not superwoman and you are a human being and it’s important to know that asking for help when things get overwhelming is not a sign of weakness. Realise that what you are going through is highly stressful and is okay to not have it altogether at all times. You need to look after you too in order to be fully able to be there for your parent.
Realize that stress is normal
Don’t pressure yourself to act like everything is normal. Life is full of ups and downs, and a sick parent is certainly a down, so being stressed out is only natural. If you’re having trouble sleeping or eating, or if you come down with a bad cold, realize that your body is coping with the stress. Go on a walk, meditate or indulge in some of your favourite food from time to time, even if the Chinese is sick of hearing your voice, if it makes you feel better, do it. It’s perfectly okay to pamper yourself during times of high stress. Realise that what you are going through is highly stressful and is okay to not have it altogether at all times. You need to look after you too in order to be fully able to be there for your parent.
Have your me-time.
You can’t be with your parent for 24 hours, seven days a week, so each day carve out some time for yourself to seek out a source of comfort. It could be while you are at work, the gym, , hanging out with friends or my favourite sticking Netflix on and blocking out the world. Just take some time to get away and do something that gives your mind a break from the current stressful situation. If your somebody who likes to retreat to your own space in your room and process your thoughts like me, that’s completely fine too just don't become a recluse as this can damage your already fragile emotional state, find the balance of spending time alone and with people who understand your situation.
Allow Yourself to Grieve
Whether or not your parent has been dealt a life-threatening illness, your life is changed and so has the person they’ve become by the onset of their sickness. As silly as it sounds it took me some time to come to terms with that my mam couldn’t come shopping with me like we used to. If she does she I have to carry oxygen for her and she has to lean on me for support. I can’t just bring my mam off on a holiday, something we used to love doing together. Gone are the days when we used to whizz around the shops together or splash about in a pool all day. Take some time to grieve the loss of your healthy normal parent. Cry while looking through albums of old family holiday photos or let off some steam at a gym class. Do whatever you need to do to close that chapter of your life and move on and accept the next.
Don’t worry about what lies ahead, when the going gets tough, you will get going.
At times when my mam illness has got really bad. I got into this zone and do everything I can to be helpful and ease the pain of it on all of my family, including my mam. Making sure I myself am inthe hospital with her or organising a family member to be there if I can’t, organising my little brothers with lifts here and there, making lunch basically fitting into the motherly role, cleaning the house going to work every day and keeping on top of the college workload. I often look back when we are in a good place with her illness and wonder how we ever got through it, that’s just what you do you deal with the hand your dealt and you handle it. You just go on autopilot and cruise through the madness. I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was. I am shocked on how much I really can handle when push comes to shove. You will cope and you will realise just how strong you can be.
Ensure your parent that they are not a burden in your life.
Nobody wants to be a burden, especially our parents, they want the very best for us. Ensure your helpless parent that this is not the case, it made her feel better and alleviated the stress that she felt. I remember all my life dreaming of travelling the world. I remember sitting in the hospital with my mam and her asking me when I was going to make my dreams come through and go see the world. I told her I wasn’t prepared to leave her as sick as she was, as I knew I was needed at home more than out in the world and it crushed her as she felt she had crushed my dreams, she felt like she was a burden. This was certainly not the case for me. our dreams and what we want from our lives change as we grow and with the experiences, we go through. My dream now was for her to have a better life, for her to be healthy and get her second chance at life and then we can go travel the world together. To this day that is all, I wish for.
Just have a big owl cry. Bottling up and trying to supress your emotions does you no favours in the long run. Trust me, you will finally explode! Crying is cleansing and helps release pent up emotions, washing bottled up 'stuff' out of your system. Don't be afraid to let the tears out; the supportive people you surround yourself with will understand why.
Be kind and Love deeply
Be kind to yourself and especially your family. Remember that you’re all in this together and everyone processes fear, sadness and grief differently. So look after each-other even if it may look like your brother or dad is coping, they may be crying inside. Remember to hug. Everyone around us is fighting battles behind closed doors and everybody is going through something so be kind to everyone you meet, you will feel better yourself for it. Most importantly love and tell those precious people in your life your appreciation because tomorrow is never promised.
I have now finally accepted my situation with my mam after many years being so upset and sad and angry while grieving for the mam I used to know. As silly as it sounds I believe I was given this life because I am strong enough to live it and I’m strong enough to get my mam through it too. She needs me, and I feel I was given to her to help her overcome this hard time. For me, having a sick parent was the ultimate test of adulthood. I learned so much before my time. I learned valuable lessons in life that people twice my age still haven’t learned. My mam’s illness thought me to never take things for granted everything is precious, even the simple thing as breathing. I have such a deep appreciation for the smallest of things in life now. I’ve learned that people and our relationships are the most important thing in your life and every day I try to make sure the people I love around me know how much I love them and appreciate them. Her illness has made me the person I am today who appreciates, cares and loves deeply.
If I had to do it all over again, I would. I look at it as a blessing every day I got to give back to her. I remember sitting in the hospital with my mam one time, I told her that she was so tough and brave because of everything she is going through, and I said ‘You’re my hero,’ and she said, ‘No, you’re my hero.’ I never looked at myself like that, but that’s what I was to her: her hero.” That is what keeps me going.