Loving Care, Long-Distance

Caring for an elderly relative or parent has many difficulties. An older person does not want to be told what to do; after all, he has made his own way without your help for all his adult life. However, he may not be able to make up his own mind about whether to sell his home, buy new clothes, or give up driving.

Living far from the one you are trying to care for brings its own set of problems. We may feel that we are neglecting our loved one when we are not nearby to help with trips to the doctor or the store. Our parents will have to face medical emergencies without our help, and this distresses the children who love them dearly.

Here are some ways to remain involved in your parents' lives.

Phone calls and visits will obviously help. My brother phoned our mother every evening after our father passed away. Mama talked to me often about what a comfort that was to her. It gave her something to look forward to throughout the day. My brother felt the expense was a good value for the comfort it gave her.

Letters with lots of details and rich imagery will bless a parent. I lived in Africa most of my adult life. I used to make a list of happenings that I knew would interest my parents. If you are artistic, drawings in the letter will add interest. Encourage them, too, to share line drawings in their letters to your children and to you. Regular mail gives the elderly something to look forward to each day: a trip to the mailbox with a satisfyingly fat letter for bounty.

Send cards for even the smallest occasion, or for no reason at all. Bright illustrations combined with loving sentiments will be cherished and displayed on the sideboard or the old piano top. They signal the message, "I was thinking about you," and, "I love you."

If parents have Internet service, e-mails are a quick and easy way to keep them current with family news. Also, an e-card is easy to send, and it will instantly bring the same pleasure as a card sent by post. Many e-cards are animated to heighten interest.

Send photos, especially of your family, but also of your world. My mother enjoyed feeding the birds when she and Daddy still owned their home, but once they moved to assisted living, that was no longer an option. I would send her pictures of African birds, feeding on my stone driveway, or the scarlet lilies that grew wild in Ethiopia. Your photos need not be exotic; when a parent is housebound, any new and lovely vista is enthralling.

Keep them laughing. Humorous stories and anecdotes will certainly be retold to tablemates in the community dining hall, or to a neighbor across the hall from their apartment. Assure them that "age is not important unless you are a cheese" (seen on a bumper sticker).

These kinds of attention will make it easier for you to give loving care, long-distance.