As we get older many of us will be in the situation of taking care of our parents as they get older. It’s something that I have actually been dealing with for many years, but has become more acute of late. For me it started about 25 years ago when one day I saw my father struggling with cutting the grass at the old homestead. I told him that he didn’t have to worry about cutting the grass anymore and that I would take over the yardwork from now on, he was very grateful. Unfortunately my father passed away 5 years later, much too soon, and my two daughters never got a chance to know a truly great man, however, my son still has very fond memories of my dad. Since then I have been looking after my mom as any good son would do. Oddly enough, my mom was THE hardest person to win over when I became an at home dad.
Fast forward 20 years to this January when my aging mom became seriously ill and hospitalized. Since then my mom, the strong women who was the driving force of our family, is very much like a child. She needs constant care and cannot make decisions for herself or even answer simple questions. It’s to the point now where she knows her name, her date of birth, and not a whole lot else. She does still know who I am, most of the time, but now she is even getting me confused with my oldest brother occasionally. And I’m not talking about the type of confusion we all do as parents where we look at one offspring and the name of another comes out. This is the real deal and really makes you think about how one would want to be at the end of their life.
It hard for me because as the sibling that has the time to care for my mom, because I’m at home, I’m the one that has to be at the hospital at 5:30 am to be with her through the preop process and answer the questions the nurses and doctors have to ask. I’m the one that has to sign the DNR consent form. I’m the one in the waiting room waiting for the surgeon to come out and let me know how things went. I’m the one taking my mom to the follow up appointments, etc., etc., etc. I am lucky that my younger brother lives nearby and can help with some things and meet with doctors and with the folks that care for my mom at her retirement community, but he has a full time job and can’t make most of the midday appointments when doctors are working. I’m also lucky that my sister has the means to visit frequently to care for my mom and give me a break, but she lives in London and can only come a few times a year. The job mostly falls on me, the caregiver caring for my former caregiver.
I tell you this not to be a; “woe is me” kind of thing, it’s something that I’ve been thinking about more and more, especially having time in waiting rooms to think about these things. But to maybe, hopefully, get folks thinking about a time in their not too distant future that they may be in as well. It was something that I used to think about fleetingly when I would see a 60 Minutes special about adults caring for their parents and think, that won’t be me. My dad left my mom in great shape and she can afford the best care, and she can. But even with the best care, the loved one needs to be cared for in so many ways that I never imagined I would have to do. I think had I really paid more attention and looked deeper that I may have been better prepared, maybe not. Maybe it would be just as hard as it is now not being prepared. I do know that it is just so hard to see my mom like this, a person that has always been larger than life for me, to be so helpless, and need me so much.
My take-away from this ongoing stage of my mom’s life and mine is that I cherish my time with her more even though she may not. I know that I’m doing the right thing and something that my mom earned. She earned it taking care of me when I bumped my head and skinned my knees, when I needed a friend when a girlfriend dumped me, and helped me after the loss of my father when she was hurting more than I. Just keep that in mind the next time your little one is being, well, your little one and you’re not at your best. Some day that little one may be taking care of you.