Welcome to Stories of Caring for Elderly Parents
Dauna Easley and Marky Olson began teaching together in the early 1970s. Their paths lead to different parts of the country but the annual Christmas card kept them in touch.
Both of them love writing and both have been published by Chicken Soup for the Soul. Both earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.
Both of them taught elementary school and moved on to teaching high school.
Both enjoy long marriages, children and grandchildren.
And now, both of them are caring for Elderly Parents.
Marky’s mother is gone now and her father lives in an Adult Family Home in the Seattle area.
Dauna’s mother still lives in her own home, near Dauna’s home in the Cincinnati area.
Suddenly, their Christmas-card friendship has rebuilt itself on the strength of the past and the challenging power of walking the final path with elderly parents.
Read Dauna and Marky’s stories in blog posts and their book
Caregiving Elderly Parents: Real Stories from two Caregiving Baby Boomers
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I grew up reading those popular advice columns in the newspaper written by sisters. Not many people realized they were sisters in real life, but they were. Dear Abby or Dear Ann Landers would ask for readers to send “mail in” questions to the paper and they wrote out their practical advice. Abby was in half the newspapers in America. Ann Landers advised the other parts of the country. Maybe this is too embarrassing to admit, but their advice columns were always one of the first pieces I would read in any newspaper.
I’ll be honest, I haven’t consulted Abby or Ann, but today I’m going to write out my own best advice. If you are lucky enough to have an elderly parent still alive, this is the very best advice I can give you. Get the stories. Health problems come and go. Living arrangements and nursing care weave their ways in and out throughout the final years, but once your parents are gone, the stories are gone with them. You can never get the stories back. And stories are what shape us. They are our parents’ legacy to our lives. Get your pen, or grab a tape recorder, ask an open ended question and listen. Even when it seems like they are telling you the same thing over and over again, you can never know when a new story will sneak in. Whatever you have to do, get the stories.
When I was co-writing with Marky for our book Caregiving for Your Elderly Parents, I was writing about my life with my parents. Each time I would write a story, I would orally read it to my mother. She was delighted to hear the stories of her life, even when they were embarrassingly honest. One day a story I read to her prompted a memory within her. She told me another story about something that had happened in the first year of my parents’ marriage long before we kids were born. I had never heard this story before. If I hadn’t been writing a book, it probably never would have come up. But I loved the anecdote she told me. It illustrated my parents’ personalities and why things were the way they were as we were growing up in their home. It was the next story I wrote for our book. I’m discovering this particular story is one of our readers’ favorites. And I didn’t even hear this story until my parents were 88 years old! I call it Eggs on the Floor.
Eggs on the Floor
My parents were eighteen years old when they were married. Their first apartment was only one room, not even a bedroom. Their bed was a murphy bed that pulled down from the wall. One morning in those very early days my dad asked for fried eggs for breakfast. Mom fixed them for him, but he complained about how they tasted and their consistency so mightily that she finally had taken all of his complaints that she could handle. She picked up his dish full of fried eggs and turned it over and dumped those eggs right down on the floor. I don’t know how the conversation proceeded from there, but mom did tell me that neither one of them would clean those eggs up off the floor. For days they walked around those eggs. Remember this was a one room apartment not even big enough to fit a bed unless you were sleeping in it.
We had a great laugh about this story together. But I couldn’t help myself, I had to ask.
But mom, whatever happened to those eggs?
She continued her story.
They laid there for days until Mim came over for a visit.
Mim was my dad’s mother, my future grandmother, though none of us kids were born yet. I thought to myself, “Oh, she knew Mim was coming and was embarrassed for her mother-in-law to see those eggs on the floor and cleaned them up.” But no. That’s not how the story played out. When Mim saw those eggs on the floor she asked about them. Mom told her story. Dad was there too and told his side of the story. Mim was the one to clean up those eggs. Mom held her ground. So did dad. This story, though funny today, completely describes the scenario I was born into.
Mom was feisty. This story might make her seem a little crazed. But here is my honest opinion from someone who grew up inside a house with my dad. Inside the home my dad was vain, critical, demanding and condescending. He was maddening enough to make June Cleaver throw eggs on the floor. Mary Tyler Moore would have thrown those eggs on the floor and then shaken her fist in his face. Rosanne Barr would have pushed the refrigerator over on top of him and killed him dead.
Even though this story is pretty embarrassing, I’m delighted I heard it from my mother. It explained so many things about my childhood to me. My parents divorced after 32 years of marriage. 95% of me knows that I wasn’t responsible for their divorce. But this story seals the deal. None of us were even born yet and their differences were already boiling over.
Today, though my parents have been divorced for 40 years, both are 90 years old and still alive. They still both live independently and I see them regularly. In fact, if their health continues they will become great, GREAT grandparents in February of 2015. I’m still collecting stories from them. Wonderful things can evolve even from two newlyweds who throw eggs on the floor.
If you are lucky enough to be caring for an elderly loved one, ask for the stories. They will be glad someone is interested in asking. If you don’t ask, the stories will disappear when they do.