Support your parent
Our aging parents dread nothing more than becoming a burden on their children, says Janet Belsky, a psychology professor at Middle Tennessee State University and author of textbooks on life span development. So your ailing parent is dealing with feelings of guilt over getting sick, helplessness over his or her physical state and fear over what the illness means for the future.
In the midst of all these emotions, a parent needs to know you care. "Say, 'I love you and you're everything to me,' " says Belsky. "It would be an enormous support to them."
Go easy on yourself
It's common for caregivers to feel guilt about their parent's condition, worried that they could have done something to prevent it. Don't do that to yourself, says Belsky, because odds are there's nothing you could have done to prevent the crisis.
Forgive yourself for the seemingly shameful emotions you might be having — relief that mom has to go to a nursing home or hope that her suffering will end soon. "It's awful to watch someone fail," says Belsky. "Don't feel bad about these negative emotions, because everyone has them."
Instead, find someone whom you can confide in — maybe a spouse, a friend, a therapist — and talk about what you're going through. Having someone to lean on through these difficult times will give you the strength to make the tough decisions and endure the caregiving roller coaster.
Cynthia Ramnarace writes about health and families. She lives in New York.