Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Reversal of roles...

As hard as being a parent is, it is something that you sign up for. However delusional you are in thinking that it will be relatively easy (HA!), you have a say in the matter and you have 40 weeks to come to grips with the responsibility you are about to embark on. Hopefully, you have a network of friends who might be along the same stretch of the parenthood path to keep you company and trade stories with.

Not so much when you become the caregiver for an elderly parent.

My parents had my sister and I later in life. My sister and I like to joke that they were avant-garde in the "late thirties/early forties jump into first time parenthood" trend; about thirty something years too early. My father passed away after a very long battle with cancer almost eight years ago, and it was HARD to watch this man who had always been so strong just wither into a shell of what he once was. But his mind was clear, and for the most part, he followed his doctor's orders. That is not to say that he was easy, but he tried, as best he could, to not worry us too much.

My mother is a different story. She was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease almost five years ago. While at first, she followed doctors orders, the decline in her ability to care for herself became painfully apparent. At first, in small ways; then in ways that you could not ignore.

But harder than trying to convince an adult, mainly your parent, that they need help is nothing compared to your realization that they are not invincible. That they are becoming frail. That they are getting old. That inevitably, they will die. And that is scary, no matter how old you are.

And it goes back to how much we need our parents, even when we are adults. When we are children, we need them to take care of our most primal needs. When we become adults, we know that their wisdom is invaluable. That they have survived our own childhood. Our perspective changes. We don't think that they were always wrong. We might be persuaded to see their point of view, now that we ourselves are being challenged in the same ways by our own offspring.

So there is another force that tears us apart. We see ourselves in them. And that you too are getting older. That you too will become frail. That your body will give out.

We fear having to depend on our own children; to be a burden to them, to be another reason for them to worry.

We cannot prepare ourselves for this; becoming the caregivers to those who birthed us. It is too hard, too frustrating, yet, it must be done. Luckily, my sister and I, in spite of the five children we have between us, have found a rhythm for divvying up the tasks that help my mother try to maintain the mobility she has, that help unburden her of most of the things that would make her fret.

We have each other to lift the other up when she becomes overwhelmed with the reality that is upon us. The reality that mom needs us now. As much as our children need us, with the same fierceness to right any wrongs, with the same gentleness when the anxiety sets in, with the same tenacity that we face each day's challenges with them. And it is an emotionally draining tug-of-war between the responsibilities of parenthood and the responsibilities to your parents.

And I am grateful, even for this. That I can do something for the woman who worked so hard to provide for us, who did without so that we may have, who fought for us to have a better future. It is the ultimate thank you note...


  1. I'm so sorry that you are going through this with your mom - its so hard to be in the sandwich generation - my mom is trying to balance the same things - work, her kids and grandkids as well as my grandparents, one with medical issues and the other with dementia... and I see the toll that the stress has taken on her...

    I'm glad you have your sister to share the burden and the love!

    Stopping by from SITS with hope that your Thursday is better than your Wednesday was :)

  2. You and Angie are soooo lucky to have each other. And your mother is even luckier to have the 2 of you. I can't even discuss this topic...b/c as strong as I am in my conviction to NOT bring my mother into my home if necessary, I can not imagine not doing so. She is the sweetest, most wonderful woman who insists she does not want to be a burden to us and our marriage when she ages (and she means it; she doesn't just say it). I can not imagine her being out of my sight if my dad is not around. So we will see what time gives out...and I will keep your ending quote in mind: "the ultimate thank you note." I, too, am glad that you now have this place to put this out there, too.

  3. I don't think I will ever be ready for this. Ever. I know it is out there somewhere in the future. And as horrible as it was to lose my father so suddenly 10 years ago, I imagine a slower loss will be much harder. Thankfully, though, my family has some pretty strong genetics. And if my grandmother is any indication--still around at 80+ years old and rockin' it grandmotherly style--it will be many years before I have to worry about my mom.

    Sisters are the bestest, aren't they? Every day I find yet another reason to be grateful for my sister!

  4. Sarah, it has been the worst "pulling the rug out from under me" event of my life, and I have had quite a few. I think that the worst is that I can barely recognize this person anymore...there are hardly any remnants there of the person I so her place is this stranger who is so sad and I cannot help. I would not wish this on my worst enemy, but, you gain insight, you tap into faith, and you learn to live your life with less baggage so that you can enjoy your family without spite of everything, there is a blessing there. It's just that some days, they are easier to find than others.

  5. This is so timely, I lost my grandmother to Alzheimer's just 2 weeks ago, my mother and aunt were her primary caregivers. As I saw how much they sacrificed to care for her I began to think how I could prepare myself to care for my mother one day. It was not easy but we all took comfort in knowing that my grandmother was cared for by her daughters and I plan on doing the same for my mom. I will pray for strength and patience for you and your sister, I wish you the best in this journey.

    Happy SITS Saturday Sharefest!

  6. Very well written and something I often think about. My parents are still really healthy and I worry about the time when they will begin to go. I'll be thinking of you. I, too, am the mother of 3 boys, 19,17,and 12. That's what led me to my book, HOW TO BE A ZEN MAMA. Hope you'll come by and visit me. Happy SITS Saturday!


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