How do you support your aging parents when they live far away from you?

I just hung up the phone after talking with my dad in Penang, Malaysia. My mum just left for her treatment for osteoarthritis. She is approaching her 80s, and still drives to the osteopath three times a week for her treatment. When I was in Penang, I was the one driving and went with her to all her appointments. However, now I am back in Sydney, so she is on her own to fend for herself as my Dad is not well enough to drive.

Only a few weeks ago, I waved good bye to my aging parents at the Penang airport with a very heavy heart, as we headed off to the departure lounge for our flight back to Sydney.

While sitting at the departure gate, my mind was thinking about my elderly parents, slowing walking to their car (driven by my brother), with my dad on his prosthetic leg and a walking stick, and my frail mum limping slowly next to him. She had just recently been diagnosed with osteoarthritis.

I was torn; on one hand, I was so excited to get back home to Sydney and be with my children; however, on the other hand, it was  really sad to leave my aging parents to fend to themselves. This is the time when they need our support most, both emotionally and physically, yet I live so far away.

I believe I am not alone with these feelings and thoughts, especially for those who have elderly parents living far away from them.

There is never an easy answer. Either way, we are torn.

On one hand, we have our lives, our family, our careers and our obligations over here … On the other hand, our elderly parents are getting older each day, with physical ailments compounding each and every day. We are worried about them, feeling the guilt of not being there to support them.

How do you overcome this?

How do you find the balance?

I can assure you, there is no one easy answer. I am sure this is something everyone who lives overseas or far away places will face – how do you support your old aged parents?

Here are a few things I am sharing with you that I do, and I hope that it will help if you are in similar situation:

Connect through phone or social media

Our phone carrier recently promoted a package where we can call landlines in Malaysia and a few other countries for free, thus, my parents are just now a phone call away.

However, talking on the phone will never be the same as being there with them, but this is the best you can do for the time being.When your children or other commitments need you less, only then can you afford to spend more time with your parents.

If your parents are linked to social media (unfortunately mine are not), link up with them daily and share your experiences and tales; it is easier and cheaper to share news and connect with them electronically.

Nowadays with Skype, Facetime and other free communication tools, make use of them. If they are technically illiterate, get someone to help them. Unfortunately my parents are technologically shy, so I was lucky to connect to the free phone package, so that solves my communication problems.

Financial assistance

Provide financial assistance where possible to make their lives more comfortable. It will help with transportation if they can’t drive, and believe me, the medical bills are starting to pile up. Also any home-help will be a great help.

I empathise with families who have home loans, school fees and other family financial commitments for the family; however we send what we can afford and make sure they have enough to support their daily needs plus medical expenses.

Connect with other relatives and friends

Encourage your parents to keep fit and healthy, and to be in the company of friends and relatives who share the same outlook, and who can connect and share daily experiences together. Sometimes there will be relatives of friends who will meet up for a game of mahjong or card games.

There are many wellness groups in the local playgrounds nowadays, where the elderly residents meet every morning for Tai Chi, Qiqong classes for free. This is a fantastic opportunity for them to get to know neighbours as well making new friends. This way, it keeps them connected with people who share the same interest while having fun and looking out for each other.

However, I fully appreciate that no amount of phone calls or writing can make up for the distance apart. But just know that you are doing your best at the moment, with whatever possible means you have.

Please share your experiences on how you support your elderly parents both emotionally and physically when they live far away from you. We can learn from each other.

Have a fun day with your family.

>> How to support your aging parents when you live far away from them – part 2