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Aging Parent: Torn Between Two Worlds

Expat's World Full of Heart

Expat’s World Full of Heart


Having an aging parent is hard enough but with more and more families becoming global nomads and living abroad when an aging parent needs help the issue is compounded. As the month of July is over half over, I am painfully aware that I will not be seeing my Mom again this summer.



When to get your aging parent help

Look for the small things that give you a clue on how her daily life is going. We knew Mom needed more help when we went home for a summer holiday and her coffee pot was a real mess.  Mom was the type of person who drank hot coffee for breakfast, had a coffee at mid-morning,  coffee with lunch and coffee in the afternoon.  It had to be hot and it had to be black. Her coffee pot was dirty and the coffee grinds were on the burner, the side of the pot and inside her coffee cups.  Mom’s eyesight had gotten worse and no one had noticed.

Getting someone in to help clean was not news that Mom wanted to hear at first. We were lucky. We had to set up housecleaning and manage it from 8,000 miles away. The caretaker was used to working with the older population so she easily billed us for her services once a month as we were able to pay her directly from our overseas account so Mom was not involved in the money transactions.  The biggest benefit was this lady was an honest and caring individual so Mom actually got way more support than we paid for.  A blessing for so many people who find themselves living far away from an ageing parent.

As the author of “Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child” I am well aware of the issues young families have had living apart from their extended families and grandparents but now as many of this same group of people are having aging parents, I am finding that it is all too common to have to seek additional support for their own parents since they live so far away.

When the unexpected happens

Illness never happen when you are around for the holidays. They strike unexpectedly. I am amazed how many of my friends spent wonderful holidays with family, then traveled around to world to get to their home. Only to get back on a plane and head back to their parent’s house for an emergency visit. I wonder if a broken heart factors into these illnesses and deaths.

My mother has recently had to move to a full time nursing facility because she broke her back. I was recently back home to visit mom and wrote a blog about her community exercise that we got to watch. (DÉJÀ VU: DODGE BALL MAKES ME QUIVER)

After several times of a ball to human interaction, my Mom was not so lucky. The recreational director even called out her name before she threw the beach ball but wham, the ball hit my Mom directly on the face. With her glasses askew, the ball bounced off her face, hit her chest, then rolled down to the floor.  With one gallant last try my Mom flung out her foot and made contact with the big beach ball. The ball sailed across the community center out of the circle of chairs and wheelchairs. Mom would not be doing these exercises if she was still living in her own home.

Enjoy and share the positive things

Is it mentally harder to go from the bad to the good? Do you always ask your aging parent, “How are you feeling?”.  Why not start with a positive! “Mom, your eyes are really looking great today.”  Most people do not convert from one frame of mind to another very well.

Last night I went to a local talk called “Getting Stuck in the Negatives (and How to Get Unstuck)” by Dr. Alison Ledgerwood from UC Davis. She joined the Department of Psychology at UC Davis in 2008 after completing her PhD in social psychology at New York University. She is interested in understanding how people think, and how they can think better. Her research, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, investigates how certain ways of thinking about an issue tend to stick in people’s heads.

Why do bad things seem to stick in our minds so much longer than the good things? Is there anything we can do about it? Dr. Ledgerwood’s behavioral science research suggests that negative thoughts are cognitively “stickier” than positive ones— but with some effort, it seems we can retrain our brains to focus on the upsides.

Once we think about something as a “loss”, it seems to stick with us longer. I will continue to send my mother cards and notes sharing the positives in her life. If I can’t physically be there, I can be there with positive words of gratitude.

Expats are experts at this

How do we reach beyond our current experience? One of the most basic challenges that people face in everyday life is how to cross gaps—gaps that separate self from other, now from future, here from there, and us from them. Even the simplest activities, like having a conversation or planning what to do next week, would be impossible if it were not for the human capacity to get unstuck from current experience and relate to other people, future time points, and distant contexts. (according to Dr. Ledgerwood)

I agree. Expats face challenges every day on how to cross gaps in their lives. Communication is always an easy one to see and the possibility to negotiate this is easy for some. Hard for others. I am the mono-cultural one tounge type person. My TCK has the ability to pick up the local street slang in a new country the first week we are there. He then blossoms into an almost fully understandable speaker within a few months. He even has the ability to sometimes pick up other words in other languages because his friends come from a variety of places around the world.

Dr. Ledgerwood’s research centers around the social psychological tools that humans have developed to help them reach across these distances. 




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