Monday, July 14, 2008

Giving at both ends of life

One of my friends in the picture in the last post returned from Dublin two years ago, after living there for more than 20 years, to take care of her parents, both over 90.

Her father, prone to frequent falls, moved into a retirement home; she visits daily. L. and her mother live in the family home.


Her mother, P., is 95, clear-minded and still eager to engage the world. (She can legally drive, but it's fraught.) They head to country inns, theatre festivals, visit P.'s beloved Algonquin Park, where she canoed at 92, nourished by the familiar natural beauty.


They have always deeply enjoyed one another's company and have little of the reflexive friction so many of my friends feel (and I had) towards one's mother.


(Years ago another friend turned up at my door with her tiny, furious mother in tow. She'd spent the morning trying to buy her a winter coat. "YOU take her", she hissed. After a restorative lunch (with martinis) in the department store dining room, we found a chic cobalt blue topper that she loved. She was sweet as churned honey with me, as I expected.)


L. is single, childless (which simplified her return), incandescently intelligent, wildly funny, and a fearless straight-shooter. Doesn't complain about the friends, work, cottage and world she put on hold to return.

She will say she misses them, and expects to once again spend time in own home. But for now she's assuaging her mother's loneliness and boredom, and listening to her father's stories.

Every woman friend is dealing with elder care- either her own parents, in-laws, or extended family, some with L.'s grace and goodwill, others with resignation, resentment, worry.

Years ago many of us were consumed with childcare, exhausted and anxious about how we were shaping those little lives.

Now we are at a bedside again, combing hair, urging someone to eat, visiting a doctor, but it's so different at the other end of life. I felt far more emotional turbulence in the last years with my mother, flaring irritation and tenderness intertwined.

When our children are small we look at the stars with them and think, what will your future bring? We look at the stars with our very old parents and think, I hope there is a heaven for you, whatever form it takes.

5 comments:

kmkat said...

What a lovely post. My parents are gone over 20 years now, but I still think of them and wish they could have known their grandchildren. Mom was given 6 weeks to live when her cancer was diagnosed, but chemo put her into remission for almost 2 years; those 2 years were precious. My father, also diagnosed with cancer at about the same time, lived 5 days after his diagnosis.

Our time together is short. Blessings on your friend L. and her parents for being able to make the most of it.

cybill said...

This post is so beautiful that i'm sure my comment can't justify it! I love the story of L, she has thrown herself wholeheartedly into her situation and created a new family dynamic. One whose memories I'm sure she will always treasure. Sadly for my generation, who put off having children until we were old(er), having to deal with both children and elderly parents is the norm. It's a beautiful but heartbreaking lesson about the cycle of a lifetime.

Toby Wollin said...

That is a very sweet post. As someone who had to do the caring for a demented parent with basically no help from a sibling, I have to say that you can miss the sweetness when care turns you into a jailer and juggler and makes you lose contact with your own family. If I can send a message to anyone out there, it is this: If you are one of the siblings who cannot(from distance, job, or just plain temperament)take part in the caring, please do all you can for the sibling(s) who do.

Duchesse said...

kmkat: Yes, we think of them all the time, each day is precious.
Toby: I'm aware and sad about this situation, I know how very fraught it is and hope my children never experience it. L. has a brother (and his family) living in the same city and they have come to a modus vivendi re how much each can do. She's also found a marvelous caregiver to spell her so she has some time off. Otherwise exhausting no matter how devoted one is.

Mardel said...

What a lovely and touching post. Oh to have the ability and time, and the easiness of relationship to take time off and take care of a parent. Toby, one does need support and caring for a demented family person is extremely isolating and difficult and finding the right balance is very difficult. Cybill, although it is not my experience, I watch my stepdaughter attempting to juggle caring for aging and ill mother as well as her infant son and career. She of course, cannot really help with the care of her father who is showing increasing signs of dementia, and I do not expect her to, as she has far more to juggle than I can imagine at this point.

Watching a beloved family member fall to dementia is extremely difficult, be it parent or spouse. I have also watched my grandmother and my MIL succumb to this disease. As for my spouse, I am still holding on to the hope that the problem is something treatable, but also increasingly preparing myself for the fact that such might not be the case, and the looming role of juggler and jailer.

It is good to be reminded of the sweetness, and to hang on to those precious moments when they occur.