One of the other things which took me away from blogging for a while was a sudden and unexpected trip to the UK to visit my father-in-law. He’s 86 and has been unwell for a while. My husband’s brother was so concerned a few weeks ago that he called us to suggest we make our annual visit as soon as possible. Needless to say we dropped what we were doing and hopped on a plane a couple of days later.
I guess it comes with our age, but many of our expat friends are now dealing with elderly parents who are ill, frail and generally needing assistance but are located oceans away. One good friend spent 6 months of each year back home in order to spend more time with her elderly mother. Eventually she moved back to the States full time to nurse her through her dying days. Another friend visits the UK every 6 weeks from the Middle East to support her mother and father through a terminal illness. The best situation I came across was a woman in Dubai who had brought her mother to live with her and her husband. Despite being much older than most other expats her mother loved it and had quite an active social life.
Recently Apple Gidley, who was a keynote speaker at the last FIGT Conference, wrote a touching article in The Telegraph about her inability to return home for her father’s funeral. She makes the point that these days it is much easier to travel home but that can be a curse as well as a blessing. It’s wonderful to know we can just jump on a plane when a loved one needs us, but that also creates a huge obligation, which generally falls on the shoulders of the trailing spouse.
In a recent discussion on LinkedIn, Melissa Hahn had some great suggestions on how to cope, based on her own experience:-
As someone who is currently repatriated due to a family illness and an aging father-in-law, I suggest that everyone have a well-thought-out action plan before a critical illness strikes. Share this plan with your family abroad and back home, and consider having concrete answers to the following types of questions: At what point will a family member switch gears to care-taking back home? Who will be responsible for what tasks, like coordinating with doctors and Stateside family?
Additionally, building a notebook with the the frail family member’s medical history, all doctors and medicines, etc. is very helpful. Make sure that your family fills out HIPA forms so that you can speak with their doctors personally while you are still abroad, especially if your family back home are less than diligent about sharing the details. Consider using googledocs to share medical records so that you don’t feel disorganized and can maintain a sense of control.
Ultimately, there are no easy ways to deal with this, but practical steps can mitigate the stress and help you better focus your energy.
I would emphasize her advice to have a plan of action if either you or your spouse has elderly parents. Look at your siblings and be realistic about not just who ought to help care for them, but who has the means to and who is likely to be willing to. And as an accompanying spouse recognize that you may be called on to do your part. Bear this in mind when planning your life overseas, particularly if you have young children or plan to work.
Oh and just to end on a brighter note, we found my father-in-law in good spirits and so far he’s holding his own.