Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Questioning Our Own Mortality

It's a fact we are all aging and eventually we die; Eros and Thanatos. People with whom I am acquainted have been discussing their aging and ill parents. Been there done that. Quite a few years ago my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and slowly deteriorated into dementia. Eventually he had to be put in a nursing home in Florida after it began to have an effect on my mother's health and well being. When parents retire there are choices they make about moving to Florida for the good weather and the positive effects on their health. Someone once said "Florida is where old people go to die". I cannot credit anyone specific with this quote but unfortunately it is true.

When a couple has been married for fifty years or so it is an awful sense of loneliness when the partner dies and leaves the other to somehow carry on. I have heard many anecdotal stories how one will pass on and the other is soon to follow. ( Some people have actually found someone else to be with but this can be a mixed blessing if health problems in the new partner begin to surface and it can get very complicated between family members on both sides; who owns what.)

My mother tried for awhile to live on her own in Florida without my father but even with the help of a close family friend the situation began to unravel. The adult children who live "somewhere else" are then faced with what to do with the surviving parent. It is often left to the daughter to pick up the responsibility and take care of Mom. So the condo is sold at a very modest price and Mom is moved up to be near the daughter. Adjustments are made and accommodations pondered.

My mother stayed with us for about 2 or 3 months and then announced she felt ready again to live independently in a nearby senior citizen's complex. Reluctantly daughter agrees to this but within a very short period of time Mom cannot seem to manage and there is growing concern she isn't eating properly and this necessitates frequent- multiple daily visits to check on her well being. Soon after she develops pneumonia and is hospitalized. While in the hospital she takes a fall and the Doctor advises she needs daily care. Now comes the difficult decision of whether to place dear Mom in a nursing home or bring her back to the family home and quit the job to take care of mother. Hey, didn't she do this for me when I was a child and now the tables are turned.

Society has evolved from the days when relatives stayed in one place and did not move too far. Children become adults, follow their own lives, and often times live a great distance apart. In the "old days" elderly were taken care of in the home. When I was growing up my grandfather lived with us and so did my uncle for awhile. My mother took care of them and also worked the night shift as a nurse. I don't know how she did it, she just did. I have feelings of guilt that I wasn't able to do that for my mother but I had a professional job that paid well. A significant number of families have both partners working in order to maintain adequate finances in the family.

I have heard variations of this story over and over. No one tells us this is going to happen. It seems to be one of those topics that is avoided. I think part of the reason is that it is hard for each one of us to accept our own mortality. As we begin to age and our parents age it begins to dawn on us who is going to take responsibility for caring for the aging/ill parent and who is going to take care of us when it's our turn? Are our children going to be willing to alter their lives and help take care of us when we become elderly and infirm?


MilesPerHour said...

I would say it's avoidance or denial we are in. On the other hand living one day at a time is't a bad thing either.

underOvr (aka The U) said...

Hi Gaf85,

The past 10 days have been challenging, not quite what you're faced with; but I do understand what you're saying. I do wonder if it is appropriate in this day and age for anyone to expect that that children are in some way obligated to take care of a parent. Yet, there is that emotional bond that exists between parent and child that says, "I owe you my life".

I would not be here without the sacrifice of my Mom, and I would do anything in my power to reassure her that "I've got her back". For me, the lines are blurred, I don't know where gratitude and indebtedness begin or end. And yet, I don't feel I owe my Mom anything, nor do I think she would want me to feel indebted in any way to her. Like you, I love my Mom, and that says it all.


gaf85 said...

Aging family members is something alot of us face and as I talk to other people I feel a bond because I know how they feel having been thru it myself. I have a boss who is going thru alot right now with his Mom and he told me he remembered when I used to talk about my Mom and it helped him priortize where he needed to be. It is often a subject we share and talk about at the lunch table at work and it is reassuring that others have or are going thru the same thing. I miss my Mom and I am glad it is okay to say that.