The summer has been incredibly hot and humid with many seniors being forced to remain homebound. I found this particularly difficult for my mother as she had spent quite a good part of the unusual winter we experienced inside as well. She is normally a very outgoing, people minded person.
The past few weeks, close friends of mind along with myself and caregivers at the boards are struggling with our parents decisions to minimalize their daily lives…the old phrase “KISS” or “Keep It Simple Silly” comes to mind. As I paid an unexpected visit to my mother today, I found myself beginning to speak on terms as I never had spoken with her before.
As I reflect back on our dialog, I remember saying that aging has taken on a whole new meaning for her generation and for mine as well. It is no longer what it was once thought of being. I spoke about being a “latch key kid”. Both my parents worked two and three jobs while we were young and growing so that they could give us the so called, “American Dream”. All those materials possessions and opportunities that were lost for them. I thought out loud how she and my father had to place their mother’s in nursing homes at the end of their lives because they worked full time and were unable to leave their jobs to care for them.
As we sat in the park there were many other frail elderly people escorted around by companions. Some were with canes, some on walkers and some in wheelchairs. This is a huge apartment complex composed of thousands of seniors right here in the middle of Manhattan. Each person hoping to remain as independent as they could. Many were just surviving. At times I believe my mother is only surviving. And yet, I think to myself, what for? The days when she and my father would traipse throughout the city, walking everywhere were long gone. The days of my dad driving them to the mountains for weekend retreats of fresh air were long gone. And the days of my mom wanting to go to the theater, a great movie and a wonderful lecture were all gone.
Last night, my friend Monica in Mexico shared with me how upset she was with her mother because her mother consciously decides not to take her medications. Something I can relate to constantly with my own mother. Monica is saddened because her mother never did more with her life. She never had a purpose to live. She never volunteered. She was always self-absorbed in her pain and what she felt she was missing out on. Jeanette is upset because her mother is suffering with COPD and CHF and her mom wants to get rid of all the clothes and materials things she no longer uses or needs. This is such an incredibly bittersweet, melancholy time for caregivers who want to give their parents things they never experienced before and they have no desire to be apart of it. They are busy surviving.
And I think of those vibrant seniors who are going back to school in the late 80’s. Still dancing. Still singing… still embracing life in a whole different way.
I shared my viewpoints with my mother on the losses she has experienced. The losses I have experienced… Was my life a success or a failure? She had difficulty in expressing what this new aging process was like for her. She knew that she was happy to still be living on her own and independent in her own home. She was happy to not need someone caring for her 24/7 as she had on several occasions. She was finding new ways of finding love, joy and peace from within herself. She was content having her local friends to dine and sit in the park with. Her day was full with just doing everything necessary to maintain her independency. There weren’t enough hours in the day for her to accomplish all she needed to.
And I thought to myself about my own aches and pains. How I wouldn’t do some of the things I dared to do in my twenties. So what is it all about? Having more compassion and understanding. Are the frustrations Monica, Jeanette, I myself and so many other caregivers because we are slowly not taking the risks to live our own lives more fully? Are we sad and upset with our parents because we are not doing more for ourselves? I reminded Monica that it was so easy as caregivers to help others but were we truly helping ourselves to remain balanced, whole and healthy. At times we’d like to think that we were, but in truth, we weren’t totally, so much of the frustrations that we get caught up in with our parents are issues we may need to look within to resolve.
I asked my mother if she would like to go out for dinner. She lit up and said, “Yes, to Artepasta!” You always go there without me when I am in the ER room at the hospital and I want to go there for dinner with you! Later as we taxied to the restaurant, my mom took my hand and lovingly said to me, “Thank you for speaking with me on aging. It made me feel real good….” It was truly a tender moment for both of us.
May your journey be gentle and beautiful!