A few days ago my dad celebrated his 69th birthday. His birthday started at a hospital, where he had been for the past several days due to an infection-related fever. He was able to finish his special day at home with our family – except for me, my husband and our children. He still lives where he has lived for most of my lifetime. I’m the one who moved far away from home and never returned. That wasn’t a big deal to me when I was younger because my parents were younger too. Now, more and more, I’m wondering what I can do in the case of an emergency when, even with an immediate flight, it would take about 3 hours from airport to airport, plus travel time between airports and our homes, for me to reach them. I don’t have plans to move back home anytime soon so here’s what I’ve been doing. Maybe you could do it too.
Communicate with older loved ones often.
I communicate with my mom several times a week in several different ways. We text each other, we use an app that sends video recordings back and forth, sometimes we email each other, and of course, we talk to each other on our phones. Sometimes we even use the mail – I send little notes and she sends packages with things for my husband, our children, and me. You may not have much time to talk but it’s good to check in regularly. I suggest communicating, even briefly, no less than once every week.
If you have siblings who are responsible, you may not need to check in as much. My dad and step-mom have two children and they all live fairly close to each other. I know that my sister and brother are there for our dad and their mom, not only talking to them but spending time with them several times during the week. I feel far more secure about my dad and stepmom because my sister and brother are always around. I also feel very secure about my grandmother because my dad and stepmom live down the block from her and someone is always available if she needs help.
Communicate with people that you trust (cousins, siblings, friends) who live close to your older loved ones.
I have one first cousin on my mom’s side of the family. When my mom is going to church, shopping, dining out, watching a new movie, attending a social gathering, or taking a road trip, there’s a decent probability that my cousin is there. My mom is relatively healthy and very independent. If no one is interested in joining her she’s often willing to do things on her own. Yet she enjoys having people go places and experience things with her. My cousin is usually ready to join her.
I’m thankful for this cousin, not only for doing fun things with my mom. She’s also the one to deliver food or medicine if my mom isn’t feeling well. She has a key to the house and will check in as needed. With a full time job, a husband, two children, a busy social life and parents of her own, I am especially grateful for the time my cousin spends with my mom.
I also have aunts, uncles, other family members and neighbors who would check on my mom if I asked. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open. Text, call, email, video chat, or do whatever you like doing. People that you trust can be your eyes, ears, hands and feet when you’re too far away to see your loved ones and help them yourself. Stay in contact with them.
Encourage older loved ones to take good care of themselves.
Both of my parents are fairly healthy. My dad has been eating a completely plant based diet for at least a decade. For years he went to the gym several days a week, preferring swimming over other exercises because of the low impact on his joints. When I was a child my mom rarely bought refined or enriched “white” foods such as sugar, flour, and bread. I grew up eating wheat or rye bread because she knew that white bread was extremely processed and lacked nutrients. She never kept soda, punch, or junk food in the house, which might be why I’ve never been a fan of any of that.
She also has a decent understanding of how various foods have healing properties and she loves natural remedies. For her, apple cider vinegar, fresh garlic, ginger, turmeric, certain teas, more water, and other food items are the first things to use when feeling ill. For both of my parents, prescriptions are generally the last resort but if needed, they will follow the doctor’s orders. I try to encourage them to continue with their healthy habits. Encouraging them also reminds me to do the same.
Visit as often as you can.
Flying with a family of five isn’t cheap so most trips to visit our distant loved ones have been road trips. No matter how you make it happen, it’s important to spend time with our loved ones as often as we can. There’s nothing like a hug, a shared meal, or a face to face conversation. The effort required to take a trip to spend time with elders is worth it. All of this applies even more if you live close to your family. Don’t miss an opportunity to be with them while you can.