It’s Our Turn

It's Our Turn - Caring for Our ParentsChances are if you’re in your fifties or older and one or both of your parents are still alive, some of your time is spent in a care-giving situation. It may involve paying bills and doing paperwork. Or driving to doctor appointments, the mall or the grocery store. You may change light bulbs, take out the trash cans and do some gardening. You may even go one step further and play nurse, doling out meds and keeping wounds clean. And in extreme situations, you may be forced to play the role that your parents once played with you – that of chief bottle washer and potty monitor.

In my case, I’m fairly lucky as my mom is quite able to care for herself.  And was financally able to provide my father with 24/7 care until he passed away last March.  So, my main function is one of giving emotional support. I call my mom every morning. I listen to her dilemmas, ranging from issues dealing with her health to when to mail her property taxes to which vegetable to serve for that night’s dinner.

Every decision seems to carry the same weight. My support includes listening, sorting through the issues and giving my advice. Much the same as she did for me when I was growing up. And then of course, she does whatever she wants to anyway. Much like I did when I was younger.

A typical conversation goes something like this:

Mom: So what’s new with you?

Me: Not much. How are you today?

Mom: I’m fine. What’s new?

Me: Nothing. What are you doing today?

Mom: Going to get the car washed and stop by the market. How’s by you?

Me: (Didn’t I just answer this question?) I’m good. Did you decide what to do about Saturday?

Mom: No. And stop asking. When I decide, I’ll tell you. So, how are you?

You get the picture.

Mind you, my mom is a very sharp lady. She runs a book club, writes newsletters and is computer savvy. She doesn’t repeat herself because she is forgetful. No, her condition is one I call “leave-no-silent-space” behind. And, face it, when you talk to someone every day, sometimes two or three times a day, there isn’t that much to talk about. There’s bound to be some silence.

On the other hand, my best friend is in a totally different care-giving situation. Her mother does suffer from dementia.  She repeats herself because she really doesn’t remember. For her, it’s like Christmas over and over again, discovering that her favorite show is on TV or that my friend is making her favorite pasta for dinner. She couldn’t be happier.

For my friend, it’s like Groundhog Day every twenty minutes. She feels like she is losing her mind.

Still, as frustrating as it can be, my friend cares for her mother, as her mother once cared for her. We do what we have to, because we care. It’s not what we talk about that matters. It’s the talking itself. Because one day the words will stop. Our attention will no longer be needed. There will be silence.

And then before we know it the cycle will start over again. Only this time we will be the ones needing help with the trash, the light bulbs, the paperwork and the potty.

As they say, history repeats itself. And if the family wheels are rolling forward in a loving matter, so does care-giving.

Janie Emaus

Janie Emaus is the author of the time travel romance, Before the After and the young adult novel, Mercury in Retro Love. She is a staff writer at www.inthepowderrroom and blogs frequently for The Huffington Post ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/janie-emaus/), Janie believes that when the world is falling apart, we’re just one laugh away from putting it together again. To learn more about Janie visit her blog www.theboomerrants.com and her website www.janieemaus.com 

  28 comments for “It’s Our Turn

  1. November 27, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Nicely captured Janie! It is so difficult but then they are gone so a bit of tedium now is not so bad. My Mother is entering the world of dementia so she is not the woman she once was but she is happy and that is all that matters.

    • November 27, 2012 at 11:29 pm

      My dad was happy, too. And for that I am thankful.

  2. vicki batman
    November 27, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    Hi, Janie! love the article and the insight. ox

    • November 27, 2012 at 11:30 pm

      Thank, Vicki. Some days are tougher than others, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  3. Jeri
    November 27, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    I would love to say what a wonderful sentiment this is – and it is. But at the risk of being Debbie Downer (or Jeri Jerk) I must say (must I really?) that this is the ideal scenario. I know from experience that along with the dementia and all of the physical and emotional complications may come two brand new people – and they are not always who you were hoping to meet. My mother has become increasingly disagreeable and difficult….and unfortunately, I can’t exactly brag about my ability to remain kind, loving and grateful. Soooo, here’s a shout out to all of the mothers and daughters who are not aging so gracefully. You are not alone….even though sometimes you wish you were….and as always, friends can see you through.

    • November 27, 2012 at 11:31 pm

      The question is..do you like these new people? Everyone changes with the times.

  4. Susan
    November 28, 2012 at 8:37 am

    I am experiencing this right now, Up until this point my 82 year old mother has been living on her own, drives to the store to shop, took care of my father and anyone else that needed care, even me this past summer which I have to say. But I think this all leads to a faults sense of secure. As you or I rush around in our busy lives , you forget to make that check in call to see if she is going okay and when she does tell you ” I have a little cold ” you think “she is fine and will be back at it in no time” you really don’t realize just how fragile they can be and their health can change in a second. Even when they are in great health and sharp as a pin. So don’t always trust what is normal today is going to be the same tomorrow.

    • November 28, 2012 at 10:08 am

      Susan- I hear you on this. And never take anything for granted.

  5. November 28, 2012 at 10:34 am

    That’s the thing, taking care of the elderly used to be acceptable. Now its often a surprise to people. I don’t know how I would handle it either. It’s great that your mom is doing so well, and boy do I feel for your friend.

    • November 28, 2012 at 10:50 am

      I try to help her out as much as I can by just letting her vent with me.

  6. Carol A. Cassara
    November 28, 2012 at 11:12 am

    It’s the natural order of things, isn’t it, this cycle of life…you are so lucky to still have your mother!

    • November 28, 2012 at 9:14 pm

      I know and I relish that fact every single day of my life.

  7. November 28, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    I don’t have to “take care of” my parents (although they are taking care of one of my brothers) I have to watchout for my MIL. I’ve taken over many of the “bill paying” obligations for property that we own jointly – so its not messed up. I’ve taken to “checking” on her personal bills but she still does write those checks.
    I am always calling or looking out towards her house (she lives within eye-view) to check on her but it is getting to be that part of my day that I hate. I’m sorry to say that, but over our 30+ years we have had a “strained” relationship.
    I’m not looking forward to doing full-time care for my MIL, but I am afraid that day will come sooner rather than later.
    I just hope my parents continue to be as strong and “together” as they are today.

    • November 28, 2012 at 9:15 pm

      I hope so, too. For your sake. And I think it is wonderful what you are doing for your MIL.

  8. November 28, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    My father passed away when I was a teen, so sadly, I never had the chance to see him grow old. Thankfully, my mom will be 80 in a few months. She is sharp, but does not keep active and has given up driving (her choice, not DMV), so our conversations are mostly about her or her husband’s health issues and medications. It can be a little depressing at times.

    • November 28, 2012 at 9:16 pm

      Try and lighten it up with fun conversations about TV shows or gossipy kind of things. My mom and I play Scrabble on Facebook!

  9. November 28, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    You might think of things in a different light after this. My parents each passed away before they reached a point of needing to be taken care of. I would give anything to still have them around and taking care of them.

    • November 28, 2012 at 9:16 pm

      I never take being with my mom lightly. I cherish every moment we have together.

  10. November 28, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    History does repeat itself. When I interact with my mom, I think, “You’re training your son on how to treat you when you’re older.” Might be kind of a selfish thought, but it really shapes my actions!

    • November 28, 2012 at 9:17 pm

      Hey..that’s not selfish at all!

  11. November 28, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Eloquently written and touching. I guess I’m lucky that my mom married a man 15 years her junior, right?

    • November 28, 2012 at 9:18 pm

      That could be a good thing. My husband is four years younger than me. Not a big difference. But they do say women live longer than men. Thanks for the compliment.

  12. Helene Bludman
    November 28, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    I take your words to heart, even though I am in a very small minority of boomers whose parents are completely independent and active. My parents are in their mid 80s, live in their own home, drive, travel, go to museums and shows, etc. I am thankful every day for this but I know it won’t always be is way.

    • November 28, 2012 at 9:19 pm

      I’m thankful for how active my mom is. I wish my dad could have stayed on this earth a bit longer. But he had 91 wonderful years. You are very lucky.

  13. November 28, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    My mom is sharp too but miles separate us and she moved in with my sister when my dad was sick so she could get help from all my nephews to help my dad so he didn’t have to go into a nursing home. She is sharp but I do know how your friend feels. I took care of a friend when her husband went into the hospital and she has Alzheimer and every four hours she would exclaim that she lost her purse (she had hid it in fear someone would break in and steal it.) so we hunted for it 2 or 3 times a day. It was like taking care of a 2 year old as if you turned your back she was hiding her purse. It was mentally exhausting.

    • November 28, 2012 at 9:20 pm

      You nailed it. It is mentally exhausting. My friend is a bit overwhelmed. But she does get out as often as she can.

  14. November 29, 2012 at 2:18 am

    My mother is 90 and has Alzheimer’s disease. She lives in assisted living because she refused to come live with my husband and I because she thought it would ‘ruin my marriage.’ I drive 70 miles three to four times a week to visit with her. There are days where it’s really hard for me to get there,(both physically and mentally) but I know her days are numbered. I want to spend as much time and make as many memories with her as I possibly can.
    I’m fortunate that she is currently very pleasant and has a good sense of humor. We both need that when she asks me the same question five times in five minutes.

    It breaks my heart that I’ve had to take on more of a parent role, taking her to the doctor and paying her bills, but I cherish our time together and will continue to do so as long as I can.

    Janie, your posts are reaching and touching so many people. Keep up the good work.

    • November 30, 2012 at 1:40 am

      Thanks, Kathy. I truly appreciate your comment. And I know that what you are doing for your mom is a wonderful thing. If I were in your shoes, I’d do it, too.

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