Continuing from last week’s column regarding the varying perspectives that we and our children have about our aging process, I will begin by saying that growing old felt like a sudden thing to me.
One day I looked down at my hands ... but they didn’t look like my hands. They were brown-spotted, arthritic and had prominent veins, the color of my favorite hat. What had become of my nice, agile, piano hands? And then I looked in the mirror ... to see my mother staring back at me. What? White hair, wrinkles, lines? When did those happen?
Well, I’ve been dealing with the shocking realization that I am truly in my elder years, which, among the many good things in my life, have included discomfort, pain, depression and most recently a hip replacement, and another coming up.
I had hoped to be able to age in private ... not to have to show my children that this ain’t no picnic ... wanting them to think of me and see me still as the strong woman I was. Don’t get me wrong. I am very much alive and energetic, healthy and productive. But, there are days when I hurt and complain, I’m short-tempered, and not at all enjoying the thought of what’s coming down the pike.
Living alone, as I had been before I moved back to Ponte Vedra, afforded me the pleasure of not inflicting that self on others. I just stayed in my apartment, tuned out and ordered in.
But, I realize that whether I live alone or close to family, or, as I do now, having my daughter Rachel living with me, my children are much aware of my aging process and have their own thoughts and worries about it.
As a child, if you have a good parent or parents (as I gratefully did), you go to them to comfort you, to kiss your bumps and bruises and place Band-Aids on them, to soothe you in the middle of the night when you wake from a bad dream. There is comfort in knowing that you have a safe place to go, a soft place to fall, and strength on which you can always lean.
As you grow older, while you trade in many of the specific needs you had as a child, deep down, whether you want to admit it or not, you still believe that your parent can do it all, fix it all, and provide for you in a way that at most ‘saves’ you, or at the very least, makes you feel better.
But aging parents face changes in their own lives, and the changes they’re undergoing demand a paradigm shift for you, their adult child. When you’re accustomed to doing the leaning, but your parent literally may need to lean on you in order to get out of a car, or walk while managing a physical limitation, or compromised eyesight; or they may need emotional support when difficult situations present themselves, it’s challenging.
Becoming the ‘leanee’ vs. the ‘leaner’ creates a profound awakening. The child still within you is shaken to the core and your adult self must take over. It’s frightening. It’s difficult. It’s imperative.
And what a profound awakening it is as the parent to suddenly find that at certain times you do have to lean on your children. Having been most often the ‘go to’ person in my parental life, to suddenly realize I am not any longer the one who can hear it all, solve it all or even, at times, help at all.
Giving up the “who I was” and accepting the “who I am now” is my daily intellectual and meditative exercise. And none of it is easy.
I have provided for myself in terms of care that I may need, eventually. I have Long Term Care Insurance, and so I know that my children won’t ever have to take care of my physical needs.
I’ve provided them with legal documents, including a Will and my personal wishes, should I become unable to make decisions for myself, and have named the persons who would carry them out. They won’t have to wonder what I want for myself and for them.
However, at this moment in time, even though I am healthy and trying to have a better life, for instance, by having hip replacement surgery, there are other subjects of concern that present themselves and need addressing.
When my Father was ill and unable to make healthcare and financial decisions for himself, my Mother was solely in charge of making those decisions. My siblings and I were not unanimously in agreement with every decision made, despite our respect for our mother and her place as matriarch of our family.
She loved my father fiercely. She is wise and capable. But my siblings and I are strongly opinionated and have various perspectives. Sometimes my differing opinions created a breakdown in my relationship with my mother. It was tough to be an adult child with strong feelings, yet unable to be in a decision making position.
I don’t question my mother’s choices. There were no ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ in my opinion. Sole decision making responsibilities come with incredible burdens, as my mother could tell you. It was just a tough time for our family. We all did the best we could in a terribly difficult situation. And the issues we all faced then are not unique to our family.
As a grief counselor, I can speak to the fact that this is common in families facing an ill parent. However, I was not dealing with our circumstance as a grief counselor ... I was dealing with it as a daughter and a sister.
Now, my Mother is our sole parent. Her wishes related to her own healthcare decisions, should she be unable to make them herself, are known and clarified in legal documents, including who the decision makers would be among my siblings.
It is difficult to think of her as ‘unable’ to make decisions for herself, but at least clarity exists about how we would proceed. But ... what if my mother is technically able to make healthcare decisions which we, her children, don’t believe are the best decisions?
And, not only healthcare decisions but financial decisions which could open her to, say, a scam artist on the internet, a scenario that actually happened, or a person with ill intent knocking on our door while I am at work. These are some of the things I worry about.
I’m grateful to have a mother who is open to listening to my concerns, after all, this is her column to which I’m being welcomed to contribute. And, privately, we are addressing her concerns and mine in ongoing conversations.
I leave you with this: “Do not regret growing older. It’s a privilege denied to many.” Unknown author