Rochester, NY

My Life In Caregiving for My Elderly Parents

Herbie J Pilato

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Caring for my parents in their elderly years was the most rewarding experience of my life. I became a better son, a better man, a better human being. At least, I hope I have.

In 1989, I returned to my hometown of Rochester, New York to care for my mother and father, Frances Mary Turri and Herbert Pompeii Pilato, in their senior years. My acting career in Los Angeles had stalled and I began to write, specifically about the classic TV show, Bewitched, of which I was particularly fond. I thought, “Well, I can write anywhere. Why not go back to Rochester and write from there? This way, I can also take care of Mom and Dad.”

In the process, Dad and I grew closer. He would say things like, “Herbie J — I don’t know what I’d do without you.” He was a tough guy, and he always loved me. But I would never have heard such intimate words from him had we not shared caring moments during his final days.

The years passed until 1995 when he died of lung cancer at 83.

My mother had been dependent on my father. Neither of my parents “came from money.” They never learned to be financially secure. And after Dad died, it somehow seemed cruel to leave my mother to fend for herself, even with my sister Pam living close by to help. She had a career and a family of her own, and we both cared for our parents because we loved them. We weren’t going to inherit an estate. There was none, in any sense of the word. There was no house. There was no massive bank account. There was nothing. Because I was single and worked from home, there were no qualms about me becoming the primary caregiver.

The years continued into 2008 when Mom passed away at 86 due to complications from Alzheimer’s.

During the time I cared for my parents, I commuted periodically to Los Angeles for work assignments. I never regretted returning home to be with them.

My parents gave my sister and me everything they were capable of giving and in turn, we gave them everything we could. We mostly gave our time, which is the most anyone can give anybody; especially ill or challenged seniors.

I learned about patience and compassion for elders while caring for my parents. Each had ten brothers and sisters. I was blessed with an extended family of countless aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends. For years, there was a party every night at our home on Erie Street in Rochester, and for a time, in our townhome in Greece, New York, a nearby suburb where we relocated in 1978.

After Dad died, most of my cousins had moved out of state and onto their own lives. A few of my aunts and uncles had also passed away. By the time Mom died, the remaining aunts and uncles had also left this world. Consequently, in my parents’ later years, specifically Mom’s, I created a new family for them to embrace.

I made sure Mom attended and participated in activities at the local senior community center. I helped her get to know each new neighbor at her new senior apartment complex in Irondequoit (a suburb of Rochester). I made sure she was loved, and I felt some of that love, too — when I became the volunteer activities director at her senior apartment complex.

The lessons of love and compassion that I learned from my parents as a child, and in turn applied to caring for them as an adult, remain with me. Even with both now gone, every good thing that I did for my parents continues to lead to every good thing in my life and career.

One Healthy Way To Love an Elderly Parent

No son loved a mother and father as much as I did — and do, all these years after they left this world.

But I do not pang after their loss or grieve intensely — for several reasons.

Firstly, let me be clear: we all grieve the loss of a loved one, or a colleague, a friend, a pet, in our own way. And no one should callously dictate how another should behave, certainly when it comes to the demise of a dear one.

But there is a healthy way to grieve, and that way has nothing to do with endless daily tears, years after the soul we loved is no longer visible to us in this existence.

Certainly, too, losing a parent after they reached into their 80s or 90s, following a good long life, is much different than a parent who loses a child, or when any young person in our lives, be they a co-worker or a sibling or a close friend, leaves us.

The experience of death in our lives is different from case to case, individual to individual. But the reality is, those who have left us at any age, no matter our relationship with them, are gone. They are not here anymore. They are somewhere else, depending on our individual religious or spiritual beliefs. And we are still here. I personally believe that once someone dies in this world, they live again in Heaven or move on to some form of higher existence, which is what I believe when it comes to my parents.

Additionally, I feel that my parents, now in Heaven, would not want me to grieve; they would want me to live my life to the fullest; to utilize the lessons of Love that they taught me for the highest good of all concerned. “Honor Thy Mother and Father” is the Fifth of the Ten Commandments. And I believe that Number 5 means not only to respect our parents while they are alive but again, to live fully the life that God gave us through our mothers and fathers.

Living, fully in this world, to the best of our ability, is the best and healthiest way to live. To love those in this world who are alive; to take what we’ve learned by the loss of those who are now gone and to apply that love to the living; to the ones who are still here.

That helps the souls of our loved ones now gone to soar in the Heavens. Our joy on Earth helps them in ways that we cannot comprehend, while any endless grief, following a respectable period of grief (one year at the most; possibly, two) does nothing to soothe their souls.

As an example, a few years back, I had a woman friend who lost her husband, after a long horrific battle with cancer. And years after he died, she still went to the cemetery and placed flowers on his grave. every day she did this. In my opinion, this is not the healthiest way to grieve, particularly at the cost of this woman’s emotions and psychological well-being. Did she really believe that this is what her husband would have wanted for her? To grieve daily, on end, while he is living joyously in some other world beyond this one? Of course not.

Juxtaposed to that woman’s experience of loss, there was another woman-friend of mine who experienced a deep loss; this time, her young son, who died tragically in a car accident. This woman grieved a healthy time, and then she moved on with her life…because she had to…for her health and well-being. But not in any selfish way. Because whenever you would visit this woman at her home, you would walk into her living room, and you would see this beautiful original painting of her son, placed over the sofa. It was clear how much she loved him. But it was also clear to this woman that her love for her son had to somehow be filtered in a more productive way. And for her, that productive way was to live her life fully…and to not be bitter or overtly grievous.

The truth of the matter is this: death has been around for eons, and it will come to each of us. The process of losing and loss, while we are here, is a learning process. Every experience of life on this planet is a learning process. And every learning process should be experienced with a realistic, respectful sense of living life to the fullest, for the highest good of all concerned — including ourselves.

As such, and as far as I can tell, the best and healthiest way to grieve the loss of a loved one is to love unselfishly ourselves and those others who are still alive.

Again, in my heart, and from my personal perspective, I know that is what my beautiful Mom and Dad would want for me. And I truly believe that’s what your loved ones, now soaring to amazing heights somewhere else other than here, would want for you, too.

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Writer/producer Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including biographies of Mary Tyler Moore, and "Bewitched" star Elizabeth Montgomery. He also writes for Emmys.com, TVWriter.com, and is the host and an executive producer of "Then Again with Herbie J Pilato," a classic TV talk show.

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