Back to the Future

About 20 years ago, my life went briefly on hold so I could tend to my mother when she was ill. At that time, I was also struggling with university studies and summer employment, so it wasn’t as if I wasn’t available. It appears I am in a similar situation today.

I am fortunate that my business workload permits me to take time off for a short bit to drive one state away then spend a whole day driving my mother about from one appointment to another. Still, I feel as though I remain trapped in a cycle that started in my teens years and continues to the present day. First, my mother becomes ill, then much of the family drops everything to help her get a diagnosis and recover, then we take turns seeing that her needs are met with doctors and treatments and diets and medications, then she eventually gets better, only for another apparently unrelated illness to take hold. I wonder how much of this is selfish attention-getting and how much is honest need for assistance where any person would be unable to soldier onward alone.

Since I have children and others dependent on me at home, when do the needs of those important people in my life finally trump the needs of my mother? As I sit relatively idle in another “waiting” room, I am forced to contemplate how best to spend my life when faced with a parent’s recurring needs.

My grandmother protested against my mother’s insistence that she seek medical care; my grandmother trusted neither the doctors nor my mother were interested in anything other than needlessly spending money to sate their feelings about her health. I suspect she would have been pleased to die a bit earlier if it netted her more time to do as she pleased. My mother, by contrast, spends considerable time in self-examination and medical, psychological, and “spiritual” care. For all the attention she seeks, I observe no measurable improvement in her life. Her home (formerly my grandmother’s spotless residence) is still littered with every imaginable “necessary” purchase or reclamation scattered in seemingly random piles on every unoccupied surface throughout the house. She seems incapable of establishing even the most rudimentary business relationships for the farm. She repeats stories of how she was cheated years ago, even if she has told the story several times before, and even if she is politely reminded that we have heard the story. While perhaps it is good that she’s “seeing somebody about her issues,” I can’t see that it’s helping any more than the frequent medical doctor appointments.

All this from a woman who managed to raise two boys mostly alone until we were nearly teenagers and hasn’t had much stressful responsibility since. I clearly don’t understand and cannot empathize. So I smile and try to remain sufficiently disengaged emotionally that none of it upsets me.

It appears I’m ranting. Back to my book reading. I hope you all fare more productively than me today.

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4 responses to “Back to the Future

  1. I commend you for caring for your mom. My sisters and I are in a similar position but my mother’s state is dementia with overall good health. Reaching the state of acceptance that I was no longer my Mother’s child was and still is heartbreaking because she isn’t who I remember her to be. I breathe through it and try not to get upset when she does things that reveal her decline. She’s in good spirits so I have to be compassionate and loving to get through it. I find people do think their older parents are being manipulative. I think that accusation has to be observed by someone who knows gerontology patterns and who also isn’t emotionally involved. Best Wishes.

    • Thanks for your empathy. I’d say my mom is not so much manipulative as a special kind of selfish. It’s something I’ve come to accept. The present predicament may force me to determine how much I can afford to help, even were she a “saint.”

      • This time has been full of difficult decisions. No matter what your parent is like now, prioritizing can be tough and I’ve come to see that you just have to do the best you can and its O.K. It’s just life and it does make other decisions clearer – like knowing what you’ll put up with outside of the more important responsibilities you’re faced with. At least it made things clear for me in that way. Be good to both of you and you can’t lose.

  2. To answer your scale-tipping question, the answer is your family, the one you created, will let you know. I imagine you and your siblings (or whoever else is sharing in her care taking) will have one of those, “We need to hire somebody,” or “We need to move her somewhere” chats. It’s the way it goes.

    Having an emotionally blunted sick person to care for is uniquely challenging. Hang in there.

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