Be resourceful. Use as many social organizations as you can for help. We placed my parents on the Neighborly Senior Services waiting list for Meals on Wheels. After a few months, they were interviewed and found to be eligible. That took a great responsibility from me at lunchtime. Mom and Dad received a hot meal delivered to our home Monday through Friday.
Be vulnerable. The only way that siblings will know you need something is if you tell them. My middle sister had a job that allowed her flexibility so, at my request, once a year she stayed with my parents while our family went on vacation. Another way my sister helped was by talking to my parents on the phone when they were discouraged about their illnesses, or confused about money. One call from her would comfort and assure them in areas that I could not.
Be quick to admit you're wrong. Often I said something unpleasant or impatient. Clear the air. Tell your loved one that you're sorry — and move on.
Be quick to forgive. Sometimes my dad would refuse to talk to me. I'd have self-righteous, indignant thoughts. Try to put yourself in their place: It's tough to lose your independence.
Be involved with your "team" of caregivers. They, too, have families, mortgages, joys and sorrows. I knew my parents' doctors, nurses, pharmacists and hospital workers, and I invested in their lives. I would bring them the occasional meal, or homemade salsa, and ask about their children. Last year, I attended the wedding of one of Dad's nurses.
Be aware of the rest of your family. Just because Dad has been in rehab for five months and has just had his leg amputated doesn't mean that your kids' and spouse's concerns are unimportant. It also doesn't mean that they have the same commitment and obligation to your parents that you do. Accept that. Schedule a weekly "date night" with your spouse; one night a week, my family of four met in our Jacuzzi to discuss the week.
Be committed to friends. On weekends, when others would go out, often my friends came to our house because it was Charles' night off. We sat in one room, while my parents watched TV in the other. Sometimes we shared overwhelming burdens. Other times we just laughed. (You need to have great friends in order to do this. If you don't have these kinds of friends, make them.)
Be positive. As with parenting, you need to look at the whole picture, not just one day.
Pauline Hylton, special to the Times