WHEN YOUR PARENTS BECOME YOUR CHILDREN

by Marc Cullison    [mcullison.com]

If life did not continually throw challenges at you, it would be boring. I mean, get up in the morning, eat breakfast, go to work (either inside or outside the home), come home, eat dinner, talk, shower, go to bed. Then repeat it for nearly every day of your life. Of course, there are weekends and holidays to break up the monotony, but how many of us actually use that time to do something different or constructive?

Then there are those days that are different. A case in point is my wife’s parents. They have lived in the country nearly all of their lives and have been self-sufficient for as long as I can remember. They aren’t wealthy in the financial sense, but they have the other kind of wealth, family. Neither of them are socialites, choosing to spend their time at their home with family. They rarely go out to social events, unless a member of the family is involved, and they don’t spend a lot of time visiting folks. Especially, my father-in-law. He is a hermit at heart and prefers his own company to that of others. I have no problem with their lifestyle and neither does my wife.

But few things remain unchanged throughout a person’s life. The changes become serious and occur more often when one approaches old age. Both of my in-laws have long ago passed eighty and their health has been steadily declining. Along with that is the increased difficulty they experience in doing many of the things they used to do. We often take our capabilities for granted and when our bodies balk at simple tasks, we first become irritated. As they keep happening, we become confused and concerned. At this point we have yet to overcome our denial of what is happening to us. The degradation continues and we suddenly become more vocal and critical of others who suggest that we should slow down and take it easy. Why should we, we think? We’ve been doing these things for most of our lives, so why should we change?

As our failings become more obvious to everyone but us, we continue to deny it, but deep down inside we know something is wrong. We just don’t want to admit it and appear to be less competent than we were. This is the stage at which the rest of the family begins to lower the boom. Those that are fortunate, anyway. Some families continue the charade well into the advanced years, everyone tip-toing around the issue, avoiding talking about it or confronting it. They just relegate themselves to lives of misery and regret.

In my in-laws’ case, the folks are well past the denial stage and gear up for battle at any mention that they have forgotten things, can no longer see as well as they used to, and can no longer walk steadily to do the things they used to do. Another flare-up occurs when they are accused of meddling. They have always been there to offer the benefit of their wisdom and experience, and now it is no longer needed or wanted. This must be the most infuriating part of it all.

I am in my late sixties and I have already noticed that my body places new limitation on my activities. I can no longer do some of the things I used to do. My endurance has suffered, my hearing has declined to the point that I wear hearing-aids, my vision is slowly degrading, and my concern grows. When I think about the problems my in-laws face, I can only imagine what terrors they must conjure. It is bad enough not to be he pinnacle of the family anymore, and to lose control over so many things that used to be easy has to scare the hell out of them. It’s starting to do that to me, already.

Some people take aging in stride. They realize what the game is and the make adjustments in their lives to accommodate it. Others, like my  in-laws, fight it. And they fight everyone else who tries to help. My wife is beside herself, sometimes, when  she tries to deal with them. Her father is particularly feisty. He refuses to cooperate with any mention of treating his illnesses or conditions. He insists on continuing to try to do things he cannot safely do, and he has essentially written off the family as meddlesome busybodies.

So here we are, trying to do what we think is best for them, but do we really know what that is? The first thought is, “Let’s keep them alive and as healthy as we can.” Of course to do this, they must stay indoors on their butts all day so they don’t risk a dangerous fall. How many of us would enjoy that kind of life? Well, I can think of some people who would relish the excuse to do nothing, but most of us are not lazy by nature and must have something to occupy our time. Especially a person who has worked in gardens and done other outside chores for his entire life. A person cannot just change overnight.

After a lot of thought, I still believe it is the quality of life that counts, not the length of it. And that is what presents the conundrum my wife and her siblings face. How do you corral senior delinquents but safeguard their well-being? I have found that it is impossible to do both. My wife has prudently decided to do what she can when she is with them, but for the most part, leave them alone. A person cannot spend her entire life just supervising her parents. They know the risks they take and to them, it is worth it to do what they enjoy doing, if they can at all. If they do nothing, they will surely wither and die.

So we let nature take its course. That is the way things are suppose to work, is it not? Her parents might die while taking a risk, but at least they will die knowing they had the opportunity to do it instead of being a prisoner of their own frailty. I hope my daughter is as compassionate as my wife when I become a senior delinquent.

About marc cullison

Retired college instructor, math and science. I write and read as much as I can. I am also working on my log house. So much to do.
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