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Terry D. Hargrave, Ph.D.
Family Relationships
ISBN: 0310255635

Despite the misleading title of LOVING YOUR PARENTS WHEN THEY CAN NO LONGER LOVE YOU, this is an excellent treatise on caring for aging parents at any stage of their decline. Author Terry Hargrave (FINISHING WELL, FAMILIES AND FORGIVENESS) offers competent, concrete, and compassionate help for adult children specifically addressing the spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental ramifications of caregivers and their aging parents.

Hargrave acknowledges that caring for an aging parent can be a wearisome, seemingly thankless task. "When we give care to an older person, however, we sacrifice for one who grows weaker, interacts less, and eventually will die," writes Hargrave. "It is a service and sacrifice for which we see very little --- maybe even nothing. Caregiving for an older person is purely about servanthood." In providing care for the elderly, we care for our own souls, he believes.

For those whose parents are in the early stages of decline, Hargrave offers a simple chart, the "Instrumental Activities of Daily Living and Activities of Daily Living" that allows adult children to assess how much care the parent requires. Can he cook a meal safely? Is she capable of unassisted walking? Can he take his medications unassisted?

Once it's established that some sort of intervention is required, he explains the four ways an aging parent might respond. There is the "make lemonade" type who makes caregiving pleasant; the "pretend it's not happening" type who insists he doesn't need help; the "poor pitiful me" type who acts helpless to do anything on her own; and the "whatever" type who is passive and possibly depressed. Hargrave offers suggestions for responding to each type with compassion and firmness.

He points out three areas that must be addressed: Medications, incontinence, and driving, and ideas for sensitively assessing and confronting each issue with the parent. A whole chapter is devoted to housing: Where should the failing parent live? What modifications can be made in the home so the parent can stay independent as long as possible? What are the positives and negatives about hiring a caregiver? What options are available when full-time care becomes necessary?

Another chapter helps the adult child open up conversations about finances, and avoid disagreements and misuse of the family's money by ill-intentioned siblings. His illustrations are firmly grounded in reality --- not all families will agree on how a parent should be cared for, and not all stories end happily-ever-after. However, his practical advice will help a number of readers avoid many of the common conflicts in caregiving.

There's a specific chapter on the warning signs and the implications of caring for elderly parents who have dementia and Alzheimer's. "No one can quite describe the pain of having your parent, who has loved you with all of his or her heart, look at you and not have the slightest idea who you are," writes Hargrave, who is a caregiver for his mother-in-law, who has Alzheimer's. "It is a slow, excruciating grief, something like pulling off an enormous Band-Aid wrapped around your heart --- but you don't get it yanked off quickly with one sharp pain; rather, it gets pulled off slowly and painfully over many years."

A controversial, but necessary, chapter deals with the inevitable death of the parent. Hargrave discusses such difficult decisions as when to intervene, and when prolonging death becomes its own tragedy. He emphasizes the importance of a living will, and making sure adult children have access to it. He also believes in the importance of helping an elderly parent die well, and shows several scenarios that illustrate what this might look like (giving the parent permission to die, hospice, talking about death and what the parent would like to see happen at the funeral).

You'll want to keep the Kleenex handy as Hargrave shares his own experiences and stories of those families he has counseled when he worked in a personal care facility for the elderly. Each poignant story illustrates factual information, vividly showing what the response to a situation with an elderly parent might look like in "real life." Questions for discussion or personal reflection end each chapter.

This helpful book will smooth the way for adults to care for their aging parents with compassionate wisdom.

   --- Reviewed by Cindy Crosby. Contact Cindy at

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