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September 19, 2015
If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make any noise? I don’t know the answer to that old question, but I know that when a tree fell on my mother’s home, it caused a lot of noise in her life. A sixty-foot oak tree fell on her garage during a storm, crushing her car, disconnecting all power and causing damage that would take more than three months to repair.

Who knew this one event would be the start of so much change in my mother’s life? A week after moving in with a dear friend while her home was being repaired, she went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with a serious illness. Our family quickly realized that life was changing fast for my eighty-six-year-old mother, and she would need a lot of help. As my two siblings and I worked with insurance companies, contractors, senior living facilities and health care providers to create the best outcomes for my mother, I learned some important lessons about helping an aging parent.

Family cooperation is critical. Hard times can strengthen or weaken family relationships, but regardless of family dynamics, history and roles, helping a parent in need requires the family to focus on the best outcome for the parent and contribute to making that happen. Hurt feelings or past resentments must take a back seat to helping. Working together and supporting each other may also help heal some of those hurts.

You need a plan to handle the logistics, information and documents, especially if multiple family members are helping. My siblings and I live in different states and have taken responsibility for different aspects of Mom’s life. We needed a system to coordinate who knew what and where to find information. I created a “Team Mom” binder that has sections for contact information, documents, medical forms, action items and a log for updates. The binder stays with Mom.

Good outcomes can come from bad events. For at least two years, we had been talking with my mother about moving to some type of senior living facility, closer to family. Leaving the home she shared with my dad was tough, and, as much as she knew it was time, she could never quite make the move. When damage from the fallen tree made it impossible to live in her home, she had to find different housing. She now lives in a senior living apartment where she gets the support she needs and is closer to family.

You never know how much time you have. Because all my mother’s relatives lived to their late nineties, we expected her to be with us for many more years. Learning that her life would be much shorter was not what we expected. I am so thankful for the time we had with her and the opportunity to plan for future time together.

Although my husband and I anticipated a time when our mothers would need more help from us, we still feel a bit surprised that it came so quickly. That time is here now, and we are learning as we go, making sure that the women who gave us so much love and support during the early stage of our lives have great love and support during the later stage of theirs.

©2010 Ageinista L.L.C