I recently wrote a post about someone who is taking care of an aging parent. I admire the this person for accepting total responsibility for his mother, in an age when nursing homes, retirement communities and elder day-care facilities are booming business. There was a lesson to learn here in what is important to someone facing the end of life; being valued enough to have a child make you the center of their day is rare.
I received a rather nasty email referring to this post. After my initial indignation at the message, I had time to think about it and their comments, particularly regarding “elder abuse.” Old bodies bruise more easily than young bodies. Visit any elderly person or “rest home” and you will see bruises. It’s part of the thrill of a body that doesn’t respond well to life anymore. The bruises you can’t see are the ones that are most painful. The welt of being forgotten on your birthday. The scar of being neglected for long periods between cheery, quick phone calls or visits. The gaping wound of being thought incompetent and unable to think for yourself.
Aging isn’t pretty, but then, neither is birth, diapers or childhood ailments to those who have never lived through them as a parent. Perhaps those years of vomit on your clothes at a business meeting or cleaning up after a violently ill child, prepare you for doing the same for a parent. There is nothing so embarrassing in life than losing control of your bowels. To have someone compassionate enough to go about the clean-up with a smile and a hug has to better than facing it with strangers, no matter how “well-trained” they are.
Forgetting the simplest things, repeating yourself a moment before you realize you just said that, or just having someone hold your hand, is precious. This is what life is like, 24×7 when you are past a certain point. Who is there to see it is of utmost importance to your dignity and quality of life.
I remember visiting my mother during her last months in hospice. She wanted to go to toilet, when it would have been easier on everyone involved if she has just called for the nurse and used in the bed pan. My daughter and I wheeled her to the bathroom and I carefully set her skeleton on the commode. My mother was a proud, even vain woman, who cared deeply about her appearance and demeanor. My daughter discretely closed the door and offered to leave. My mom, to the sound of water hitting water, declared, “Oh don’t bother. Did you really ever think you would be seeing your grandmother taking a pee?” We laughed and the moment was gone. Beyond that, my daughter made a very astute observation, “Nana B. is totally lucid, just not always in this time zone.” What time zone are we in when we are dying?
There is no correct answer to elder care. There is only doing what you think is best for as long as you can. As we, the baby boom generation, age we will re-write the rules. I hope our children can follow along. What we all need to keep in mind is that extended families existed in past generations because there was no place to park mom or dad. Dying was a part of living.