Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tables Turned: The Child as Custodian and Caretaker

We read all the time about adult children taking care of their parents. We hear stories from our friends. We offer words of support to friends and relatives dealing with the situation. Then it hits home, and we are right in the middle of coping with the situation ourselves.
Whether because of guilt, inertia, unawareness, passivity, denial or whatever, children frequently do not admit the extent of their parent’s problems. Sometimes the dependency happens slowly; other times a sudden crisis initiates the new relationship. With my mother-in-law it has been a gradual, steady process over the last five years, initially precipitated by a crisis from which she recovered. The past year a slow, steady downward progression that escalated in the past couple of months resulted in a crisis the doctors dub a ‘warning’.
Three siblings attempting to agree on what to do about Mom has been an experience in diplomacy, frustration, estrangement and eventually a complete severing of any relationship between two of them. The one sibling still speaking to the other two acts as an intermediary, an arrangement she is not happy about. This latest crisis has resulted in a meeting of the minds, so to speak, where all three finally agree Mom can no longer live alone. It is time to move Mom – until now in her own apartment – to an assisted living facility.
Did I mention Mom has a definitive mind of her own? She is stubborn, demanding and unhappy. Dealing with her has become difficult, challenging and exhausting. She insists she is independent and wants to remain that way, yet refuses to make herself any meals or eat alone, does not bathe, clean her apartment, do any laundry, shopping or anything else for herself. She has been – until the latest mishap – physically capable, but mentally and/ or emotionally incapable. Her days have most recently consisted of long naps, morning and afternoon, on the couch.
Mom will be fine if she follows doctors’ orders. She is a great candidate for assisted living, although she would never admit it. She says she does not like structured living or want to give up her alleged independence. The irony is that she will be happier and more independent. She will have meals served to her, people to talk to, activities if she wants to participate and medical assistance if necessary. The facility will ensure she takes her meds, which will make her feel and function better. I believe she will have the desire and the strength to participate, once again, in life.
I intend to live forever, or die trying.  -Groucho Marx, comedian (1890-1977)
 If I'd known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself.                                      
- Eubie Blake (1883-1983), musician,composer

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