Stories and thoughts about family and life

Being Prepared, or not so much

on January 11, 2013

Our world has gone mad.  Every day there is a new story of violence on television.  A new shooting, and usually at a school.  Sometimes involving kids shooting kids.  When they’re not being shot, they’re being molested or abused.    It frightens me to think my children are exposed to such dangers on a regular basis–dangers I never even had to consider as a kid.  I worry about them being mistreated or their lives cut short.  I worry about teaching them to be strong, independent people who are also compassionate and caring young men.  I try to teach them common sense, and critical thinking skills.  And then I try to remember all those lessons myself.  The world all the way around has gone mad, and nothing is the way I imagined it would be at my age.

On the other end of our spectrum, we’re dealing with elderly parents who can’t get their needs met–who need expensive prescriptions or have other elderly needs which are difficult at best for their children (us) to meet.  We each have parents who have needs, although thankfully my parents are still remarkably self-sufficient.  The worst thing I’ve had to do for them lately is write a letter and make a few phone calls.  For my husband’s parents, the needs are much more intense, and exceptionally consuming.  Between his mother who is completely dependent on everyone else, and his father who requires a substantial amount of assistance, coupled with their denial of their medical realities now and the requirements that they take care of themselves, I feel we’re in quite the emotional sandwich.

We have small children who need us, and for whom I desperately want to be involved.  It won’t be but a couple of years before they’re simply “too cool” to have their parents involvement in much of anything, and right now they still think we’re pretty smart and have a lot of the answers.  I remember being a teenager and I have a lot of friends with teens currently.  That look of awe and desire for inspiration doesn’t last forever.   The other side of the coin is the elderly parents who also have needs.  They need people to be responsible for them:  assure they are receiving the medical care they require, help them negotiate things, help them with simple things like taxes and laundry and shopping, but also help with the complicated things such as what to do about finances and ensuring they have enough to live on.

I remember our PCP telling both my husband and myself that we were depressed, even if we couldn’t see it.  With him not seeing us every day, he could easily recognize the beaten down, exhausted look.  He could hear in our voices the loss of confidence and the slow-motion evaluation of things we have taken on.   It’s the emotional equivalent to having a new baby at home and never sleeping, desperately trying to find your rhythm–only worse.  This is like having a new baby, but that baby never sleeps and cries all the time and is going to the doctor a couple of times a week.  For two people who haven’t taken care of aging parents before, it’s been quite a shock to our systems.  My husband’s sister tries to help us as much as possible, and is often-times the messenger with her parents when we must deliver uncomfortable news, as she knows we have to live here and deal with them regularly.  She gets to “be the bitch and leave” as she puts it.    I have more respect than ever for people who deal with special needs people in their lives.   I never imagined that we would be in this position.  I never thought that we would find ourselves as “Oreos” and taking care of young children and aging adults simultaneously.  I try to compensate a little extra with our children and do extra “fun” things with them because they’ve spent so many nights sitting at their grandparents’ house, waiting on us to do one thing or another.  They’ve spent entire afternoons entertaining themselves and have found themselves doing one thing or another to “help” their grandparents along.  I feel badly for them–as though their childhood has been somewhat robbed away from them.   They’ve taken it all in stride, and they’re kind, helpful young men who make sure their grandmother has the door held open for her, and they fetch her things to try to make her life a little easier.  It just makes me sad.  We have even stopped inviting the grandparents to the kids’ functions, because the effort it takes to get them there and the focus constantly being on their needs just takes it away from the child who is so proud to perform for us, let alone his classmates who are also trying to perform for their proud relatives.

I feel badly for my husband and his sister, through all this process, and I have more and more respect for my parents.  It’s a bizarre juxtaposition.  The people who took care of you your whole life and nurtured you and disciplined you are now requiring the same things of you.  I read a story a few months back about an older person wishing the younger person would realize that she just needed more patience, more time, and more love.   I have a friend who has a relative with Alzheimer’s and I listen to her talk and her stories are of patience and kindness and never growing tired or irritated with her relative.  I’m  jealous that I can’t seem to find this same level of approach to our situation.  If it were just a matter of a little confusion or repeating ourselves periodically, that would be one thing.  Our situation includes denial of their own situation, belligerence when confronted with something they don’t like, bad attitudes copped toward people who are trying to help them (especially, God forbid people in a clinic or hospital–then it’s REALLY ugly), and manipulation to get what is wanted.   It’s sad when the child becomes the parent.   It’s an awful reality to find yourself faced with having to direct to your parents what needs to happen–when you’ve moved beyond getting their input and having them help you make the decisions and you’re down to making them yourself.    It’s even weirder when you’re the daughter-in-law, and while these aren’t actually YOUR parents genetically, they are your family.  My husband and I married when I was 20, so I grew up with these people and we’ve been family for so long that it’s difficult to remain objective.  I fight for their medical rights and I argue with doctor’s and insurance companies on their behalf, just like I do my own family.  I’ve run the errands and paid the bills, and helped run the household for them, just as I would do for my own parents.  But then I feel like I shouldn’t have a say in what happens–that should be left to my husband and his sister.

As we were faced with another early morning phone call of a crisis situation at their home, only to be called back a few minutes later and told it “resolved” when my husband suggested my mother-in-law should go to the hospital, these thoughts are all swirling through all our heads again.  We had promised them we would keep them in their house as long as possible.  We did that.  We agonized over the decision, and still hurt every time his mother mentions how much she misses her house.  When we finally moved them into an “independent living facility” where they have an apartment and on-site assistance, we knew it was the right thing to do.  And as most of my friends have told me we would finally realize, we did it about a year later than we should have.  We promised them we would keep their best interests at the forefront, but I don’t think any of us thought about how those best interests would sometimes lead to very painful conversations and decisions.

It makes me think about my own children and my own life later on.  My husband and I have had several conversations about our retirement years, and how we want it handled.  I certainly don’t want to put my children through what we’re enduring.  I don’t want my grandchildren to see me, unable to go to the bathroom by myself, unable to feed myself and unable to walk by myself, but more importantly unable to get out in the yard and play.

My parents have been a great source of strength to me as I’ve been able to say “here’s what’s happening” and ask them how they would want that approached with them.  They’ve been very frank, and it’s given them some pause on how they need to handle their own future.     We waited a while to have children, which is part of why we’re in the situation we are–coupled with our parents also having waited to have children.  So we’re all older than we would normally be, and we still have younger children.    I realized that not everyone is in that situation, and I certainly hope there aren’t a lot of people having to go through ours, but I’m learning as I encounter more and more people that this is happening a lot.  Maybe because we are living longer as a society, or maybe because we’re all busy and stressed out and have too much going on.  Either way, give it all some thought.  What would you want?  How would you want to live?  Make your wishes known so the people around you can help you.


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