October 6, 2007

Dependence and Aging Parents

My mom and Paul, 2002. The Swedish rollator kept her out of a wheelchair
In response to my post on accepting dependence, Eve asked me: "What advice would you give to those of us with older parents who are soon to enter into a dependency stage?"

I wrestle with these questions for myself. I see my cousins struggle with the same issues with my aunts and uncles. My mother was incredibly healthy and active until she fractured her pelvis on a trip to Israel. In fact, she walked around Israel for a week with a fractured pelvis. I suspect only my father could tell her what to do; I often wished my dad were still alive to cope with her destructive decisions. Mom thought that her mom had taken a defeatist attitude toward her arthritis, taken to her chair, and given up her formerly active life. She was never going to be like her mom; exercise, yoga, great diet would all prevent that. But my grandmother lived four years longer, and taking care of her was relatively easy. She remained the loving, wise grandmother who was a great listener; she lived to know 23 great grandchildren.

In her eloquent tribute to my mom, my daughter Rose points out she was always moving. My mom never seemed anxious or depressed; she coped with negative feelings by activity. As her health and life fell apart very quickly, she wasn't comfortable about expressing her fears or grief. I often wondered if she had adequately mourned her little sister who died when mom was 5, her father who died when she was 17.

If my mom had been more cautious, she might still be alive to see six grandchildren married and meet three great-grandchildren. Anne, my oldest daughter, has told me dozens of times in the five months of her son Nate's life how much she misses Grandma. I used to tell my mom, "Mom, so many of your grandkids are just on the cusp of marriage and parenthood. Isn't seeing Mommy Anne worth letting us take care of you?"

Our generation is being encouraged to think we can defeat aging. The US can't cope with dependency at the beginning or end of life. Letting people take care of you can be the most loving gift you can give them. I recommend the superb blog, Time Goes By--What It's Really Like to Get Older by Ronni Bennett. If your parents are aging, encourage them to read it and discuss with you the many issues she raises. All of us constantly struggle with being able to ask for and accept help. I recently sprained my knee, and I hate to ask my husband for the help he is happy to give.

Even though it was challenging, I have always been glad I was able to welcome my mom into my home and give back a small part of what she had given to her family, her friends, the world. My then new husband Paul was wonderful with her. Since he hadn't known the super Mary, he could love the reduced Mary without mourning what was no longer there. People used to assume Paul was mom's son; mom get confused explaining she wasn't English.

Please share your thoughts and experiences with this.

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