Robert Frost said, ‘The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.’ I recall reading these words several years ago when perusing some of his works. They didn’t really impact me in any meaningful way back then. Time changes many things.
Watching my parents age is a very difficult thing.
I long ago accepted the fact that my parents will one day no longer be here. I am fortunate to have a wonderful assortment of friends and extended family members, and my own immediate family, and therefore don’t anticipate feeling ‘alone in the world’ when they pass. I will miss them, certainly…..I will mourn their passing. But I do know, full well, that it is an inevitability. Their death doesn’t ‘scare me’….their life as senior citizens, on the other hand, does.
My father had a stroke in 2006, as well as having dementia (he still knows who everyone is and where he is and why, but his self-care was in jeopardy) and has been in an assisted living facility ever since. He doesn’t really care for the facility, but without having planned for this time of his life in advance, he doesn’t really have other options. His well-being and safety are at stake, and he needs more ‘care’ than can be provided for him with either of his children. Irrespective of these facts, he is, at least with me, mostly upbeat and I always enjoy my visits with him. We speak of the past as well as the present, and he discusses each with equal acumen. I check in with the staff to question whether or not he is properly medicating himself (not that I’m an expert, I just notice changes in him that usually indicate either non-medicating or a need for adjustment), and while he may fight them on it, he usually listens to me, for whatever reason, when I explain to him the need to care for himself properly. Dad, for all the limitations that life now presents to him in terms of living independently and having things to fill his time, does ‘okay’ for himself. But I know he’d like to do, and have, more. I’ve watched him lose his (second) wife….his home….his freedom and independence. I’ve watched life take away more than it ever gave him. I’ve also watched it take away parts of his mind and memory. He does okay, but can’t ever live on his own again, nor can he live ‘unassisted.’
My mother is having a far more difficult time with the inevitability of aging. She fights it every step of the way, but not in a healthy manner with better eating, with focusing on what she still CAN do rather than CANNOT do any longer, and with trying to maintain a positive outlook on life. Her ‘golden years’ are tarnished, for her, by the greater difficulties she faces with ordinary, every day tasks like making a meal, cleaning her home, and getting out. It’s not that she doesn’t have people willing to help her. Her difficulty lies, seemingly, in allowing them to take care of her. We’ve talked at length about the ‘fear’ associated with relying on others and surrendering our well-being to them. I know, for myself, what it feels like to ask for or accept help from others….it’s daunting….it feels ‘weak’ and ‘vulnerable’ – despite being told for years now that admitting your weaknesses is a sign of strength. I’m getting there, little by little, but I’m putting the work into getting there. My mother, sadly, is not. Even more sadly, I see the onset of dementia for her as well, and I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult that will be for her to navigate as it will mean an even more heightened need for ‘surrender’ on her part to the care of others.
In both cases, even though my dad didn’t really prepare for this stage of living – and with the ‘basic’ preparations my mother made….it’s as if no matter what we build, no matter what we work for, no matter what fights we fight or dreams we achieve…eventually ‘Father Time’ is there to call in his marker. It’s not easy to watch. I hope I remember it all when it comes to my time, and that I find it less difficult to ‘go gentle into that good night.’
I admit that one of my shortcomings in all of this is patience. It isn’t that I don’t love them both, nor that I don’t want to help them both, or would do anything I could to make this part of their life easier. I see them both, I spend time with them both, I do what I can for them both. It’s easier with my dad, as he seems to have ‘acquiesced’ to his position in life, but not so with my mother. I try to be understanding and compassionate….and yet in the face of what amounts to verbal abuse and flat out refusal to even attempt to take better care of herself most times, it’s a level of frustration that I admit I cannot simply ‘put aside’ – and I find myself angered, exhausted, and weary of trying to find new strategies to ‘help’ her.
I don’t want to ‘force’ her to do things. I don’t want to ‘rob’ her of what little dignity she can maintain in her 80’s. I can see, and deep down I know she sees it too, that she needs help, much help, and yet the thing she needs the most, that help, seems to be the one thing she cannot accept, and it angers and frustrates her as well.
I know, without a doubt, that it’s not a profession I could get into – care of elders – and as my own parents age and struggle and I navigate that with them….I find myself more and more in awe and so much more respectful of those who do it day in and day out for others. They deserve far more praise and compensation for their efforts.
I know that the situation is only bound to worsen, not improve, for both my parents. I am hopeful that, for myself, I can find some way to better cope with it all. As I said, I don’t fear their deaths…I fear the interim, both for them and for myself.
I am, as I think I’ve displayed in other posts, an avid reader….anyone who could suggest literature to read about coping with aging parents, or more specifically with parents who have dementia, I would be most grateful.