I was originally going to title this post “Why Is It So Hard to Accept Our Parents’ Aging?” but the thought that drove me to blog today came from another issue, brought up by a conversation with a friend.
I just discovered that my friend’s husband has Parkinson’s-related dementia. Boy, does that ever bring back memories. Memories of my mom and her Parkinson’s disease. She was diagnosed in 1985 and took early retirement from her vocation as a teacher, which she had dearly loved. Two of my aunts staged an intervention over Christmas break and convinced her that she needed to retire before it became obvious to her students’ parents that she was deteriorating mentally. I think her 7th-grade students already knew something was up, because she would get in the middle of demonstrating how to work a math problem and be unable to go any further.
Yesterday I was multitasking, taking a walk as I skimmed a chapter from a book on coping with transition and loss in aging. I mused on the following passage:
“Why is it so hard for us to accept our parents’ aging? The grief for me is wrapped in the knowledge that I no longer have parents, except in name. I have become Mother’s parent. I have her power of attorney. I write her checks, reconcile her bank statements, and make decisions concerning her finances. …
“At my father’s death Mother expected others to do for her what Daddy always did. Some of this was cultural. Southern women of my mother’s age learned to be helpless and let others do for them. It was unthinkable for my mother to open a door, carry her own packages, or put on her coat without help. This was the way it was when she grew up, and the way it was in her marriage. My father enabled this behavior. He felt big and strong, and she felt cared for and protected. My parents were a set. They belonged together. Clinically we would say they were enmeshed. My father was a pessimist, my mother an optimist. I have often wondered if they were this way at the time of their marriage, or if his pessimism created her optimism, or the reverse.”*
Reading this, I thought of my friend and how she is dealing with her spouse’s dementia. That has got to be a huge challenge, even harder than caring for a parent with dementia. My heart goes out to her and her husband.
And this leads me to think of my 90-year-old dad and the many adjustments he has been forced to make over the years, caring for not only my mom but his second wife, whom he married 3 years after my mom’s death. Now he is at the point where he needs someone to assist him, though he is still sharp-minded and fiercely independent.
I have no answers, only questions and ponderings. One thought has stuck with me about dementia: When you have a family member with dementia, it’s like losing that person twice. First you lose the person you knew, and you grieve over that. Then when death comes, you grieve again. I’m still working through my grief over losing my mom when she was still relatively young (69) and I was a young mother. It’s not an easy situation, though time has softened some of the pain.
*The above passage is from page 30 of And Not One Bird Stopped Singing: Coping with Transition and Loss in Aging by Doris Moreland Jones. Copyright © 1997 by Doris Moreland Jones. All rights reserved. This book was published by Upper Room Books and is now out of print but available through amazon.com: http://amzn.to/XTMbmA