I Don't Want to BE That Person...
Several months ago, one of my best friends told me that while she missed her 87-year old mother and worried about her constantly, she would now be flying to Europe to help get her mother’s affairs in order to prepare to move to her brother’s house in South America.
My friend repeatedly told me it was not something she was looking forward to, and in my naïveté, I didn’t understand why she was depressed instead of happy about the trip. My own mom left us suddenly and early (age 69) and I could not imagine feeling anything but elation at spending time with her no matter what age she had lived to be.
I waited about a week before inquiring about how my BFF was faring, just to make sure she was over the jet lag after a 22 hour voyage with 4 stops. We FaceTimed, and from that one experience “visiting” with her, I could tell things were not going well. She looked exhausted and sad. Her mother is in denial, constantly depressed, cannot believe she has to relocate (she has NO family left there and no caretaker to look after her), and is making it all extremely difficult on her sweet, loving daughter. Even though her mom’s health is not bad, she is beginning to withdraw from life and often refuses to leave her apartment without her daughter’s pleading and cajoling.
My question is this: is it possible to plan how we will behave toward our adult children if or when we reach old age and become dependent on them? My oldest brother quit his job to take care of our dad, who never planned to live 7 years longer than our mom — a person upon whom he was dependent for just about everything. Dad’s last years were full of regret, quelled only by an occasional travel adventure somewhere with my brothers to take him out of his daily element. When he fell ill, he became a difficult patient, refusing to eat and calling out constantly for attention. My other brother and I tried to pinch-hit once in a while to give our sibling a break, but once my dad had gotten used to his primary caretaker, we became poor replacements.
If I write this blog post, telling the world that the LAST thing I want to be to my husband or my only child is a burden, will it matter? Am I destined to deny what is happening to me when my independence becomes compromised and I need constant attention? I realize that time may be a few decades away, but the very idea of becoming a crabby old lady bothers the shit out of me. Are crabby old ladies the result of having been crabby younger women or does that just happen overnight? Will I fail to have any empathy left for the person caring for me?
Oh God. I hope not.
Is there a way to put everything I hope to be as that old person in writing right NOW, so at least someone will know I never planned for my personality to be so irritable? Can I fucking apologize in advance, and will that help?
I can’t wait for my friend to be home, so we can spend time basking in the sun, planting spring flowers, drinking wine, talking about life, and getting her back to normal. I worry that her health will have been compromised from the depressing few months she spent trying to be the best daughter she could be.
I know there are no ways to foresee nor avoid this time in her or her mother’s life, but if I could I would fly there in a heartbeat just to tell her all will be better soon, let her cry on my shoulder, and tell her that in no uncertain terms that she gave her mom 100% no matter what the future holds.
To those of you who have been caretakers of your parents, I salute you. I know how hard it can be, even though I could never take my brother’s place 15 years ago. I know there is a fine line between feeling good about being a caretaker, yet feeling angry over it at the same time. When you look back on your own life someday, however, I hope you can take comfort from having given all you could give to that person who made you.