June 27, 2008

Coping With Sick Parents Part II

This is the intended to be tied into a post I wrote this past February called Coping With Sick Parents. When I wrote that post it occurred me that I know many people who had the misfortune of losing a parent while still in their early childhood or young teens.

I felt bad for their loss as I know from my own experience just how lucky I have been. Until my mid thirties I had most of my grandparents and even at 39 I am still blessed to have two. And I feel very fortunate that my own father survived a major heart attack and triple bypass four years ago.

But this isn't about my own luck. This is more about what I have seen from watching my parents help their own parents and things I have seen from my friend's struggles. So there is nothing scientific about this, just my own observations.

Coming to grips with your parent's mortality can be a brutal and heartwrenching experience. For the most part age doesn't matter, meaning even if you are in your sixties it is not easy to watch mom/dad start to deteriorate.

Some people cannot deal with this. No matter how hard they try they simply cannot cope with seeing the man they viewed as superman reduced to wearing diapers. So they run away and make any number of excuses as to why they can't spend time with them.

As you can imagine this can place enormous strains upon their relationship with their siblings and other family members. But even good coping skills can be tested. I have seen a couple of situations in which siblings engaged in battle and open warfare about the best way to help their parents.

It seems obvious that this would be the time in which the family pulls together, but life doesn't always work that way. To be clear, I am not making a value judgment about this. Having been through my own situation I know how tough some of it can be.

When you see your father on life support and unable to participate in the discussion about the best course of treatment it is hard to be impartial and objective.

But let's move away from that for a moment. I want to focus on my own grandparents. They're 94 and in a couple of weeks are going to celebrate their 74th wedding anniversary.

During the past five years I have seen a steady progression healthwise and not in the direction I want. On the whole their mental faculties are good. They're still sharp enough to know what is going on. They follow the news and are abreast of current events, but their is slippage.

Their memories are starting to give them a bit of trouble. My grandfather prided himself on knowing dates, birthdays, anniversaries, whatever. Name the person and he knew it. But he has lost a bit of his edge there, and the sad part is that he knows it.

I say sad because he is aware and bothered by what is going on

He recently told me that "the golden years are for shit." When I asked him to elaborate he told me that he was frustrated because he can't do what he wants to do. He said that he tires too quickly to enjoy some of the things he used to do and that he is scared to death of my grandmother falling down because he can't pick her up anymore.

"Jack, the day you realize that you can't protect your wife like you're supposed to is not a good day," he said.

I did my best to make him more comfortable. At his age he deserves some more peace of mind, but there is only so much that I can do.

From a different perspective watching my parents deal with their own parents has had its own lessons. I have to give them credit for the love and care they have shown. When the time comes I will have a hard act to follow.

But I am quite concerned about the strain it has placed upon them. They are paying a heavy price for the love and devotion. And while I would be the first to say that parents like children are invaluable, I also have to say that there are limits to what is reasonable.

Or maybe that is just my own fear that this will negatively impact their lives and I'll lose my parents sooner than later.

If nothing else I am definitely aware of my own parent's mortality. I don't consciously live in fear of their dying, but having a sick father does keep the thought in the back of one's mind.

It is hard not to wonder what else I could be doing to help improve things there.

4 comments:

Doreen Orion said...

My parents are 86 and all my grandparents have been gone for years. Fortunately, my parents are quite with-it, living independently and are generally, in great shape. Especially my mom. She's actually 6 months older than my dad, but takes great delight in everyone assuming she's (as she puts it) "the trophy wife."

I feel lucky I don't have to worry about anything with them right now, but I also realize anything can happen. We're visiting them in NY next week and it's been way too long.

westbankmama said...

Thoughtful post Jack. When my father passed away this year at 82 he knew who everyone was, but he didn't always know WHERE he was. A week before he died he told me, "I'm getting to be a very old man". Very hard to deal with, but inevitable.

bigwhitehat said...

I hate to think about it.

The other day, my father brought some of my stuff he had stored. He brought a trailer. He couldn't back the trailer out of my driveway. This is the man that taught me how to back a trailer. He also taught me to drive. I wonder how long he will be able to do that on his own.

We have to live it up each day. Tomorrow they will be different. One day, they will be gone.

Jack said...

The trophy wife

That is funny.

WBM,

As long as he thought that he was somewhere enjoyable. ;) Sorry for your loss, it is never easy.

BWH,

Change comes faster than we like.