Thursday, December 1, 2011

"For now we see through a glass, darkly," of our future, or not?

I've mentioned in various contexts that I'm Mom's primary caretaker, and that I've assumed this role willingly and lovingly...

Even in moments when my assistance stirs up an array of unexpected, and even scary, thoughts and feelings.

I kept up the denial for many years, knowing rationally that Mom "might someday need my help." Grownups are not really different from children in this regard. We keep the image of Mom or Dad as a 45-year-old in the forefront of our consciousness, clinging to it as a fantasy even as various capabilities fall away. With some seniors, the decline is rapid; others experience gradual aging as that proverbial "thief in the night."

My mom has been bravely holding out against frailty. What seems (wistfully, to me, at least) a scant twenty years ago, Mom was newly-retired from nursing, enthusiastically doing volunteer work, making gift batches of homemade fudge for everyone from my son's teachers to the trash collectors, baking holiday pies from scratch, and driving her little putt-putt 1966 VW Bug all over town.

Today, Mom confines her life mostly to her bedroom, and her jailer is her fear of falling. A fall which, by the way, has not yet happened.

She reluctantly gets out into the living room for meals, TV, and conversation with me at my insistence. Cautiously wheeling her walker, Mom pauses halfway down the hall, saying, "Oh, I can't do this. This is a mistake." And I'll--taking a breath and holding back any impatience--"Yes, Mom, you can. I'm here. I'll never let anything happen to you." And then it hits me--for the zillionth time--that we've come full circle, and I'm now the protector, as she was for me at the beginning of my life.

I'm not alone, though. My son, all 6'5" of him, puts aside his usual smart-alerk self when he's over here, and actually quells Mom's fears, if only briefly. Getting Mom out of the house and over to Thanksgiving dinner at a relative's home took our combined efforts, but it made my holiday complete to have her there. Eric and his father-in-law picked Mom up, wheelchair and all, transferring her safely and easily from the walkway onto the porch.

Christmas, another important family-gathering time, is something I need to start strategizing now.

Mom's impacted mobility has reminded me how tightly our senses of self are bound up in not just who we think we are, but what we think we can do. Take that away from any one, especially seniors, and the decline can begin. Not a day goes by that Mom doesn't say something like, "I don't know what I'd do without you," or "I never thought you'd be taking care of me." The fact that Mom still has most of her cognitive faculties makes her gratitude all the more bittersweet.

Recently, I posted a link on my Facebook page to the TED talk of Aubrey deGrey, about "Defeating Aging." I viewed it again the other day, and have decided I dislike his proclamation that "Aging is ghastly." Right now, with our current knowledge and technology, aging is inevitable but not horrible. I prefer those who go beyond deGrey's disgust, and focus on the practical "hows" of enhancing quality of life while it exists. Thank goodness we live in an era of AARP, and a plethora or others organizations.

Knowing that our elders have a limited time with us can be scary, and that's why I think the image of "old people" can be depressing or revolting to us boomers. These reactions are merely masks for fear that this can be our future, fear that can diminish our ability to treasure our relationships with our elders in the here-and-now. And it's good to remember that our own children are watching, taking cues as to how to react when our own time winds down. It's easy for my generation, in times of angst, to recall that Who song, "My Generation," and the line, "I hope I die before I get old...". Not me! I like to think, as I sometimes look "through the glass darkly," that total dependence is only ONE scenario that could play out for me. Much of my future, with the help of knowledge and lifestyle, might still be within my control.

And so, we solider on, down this road, Mom and I. With the help of family, friends, and resources through her Medicare and supplement, life is mostly in this good-enough state. I intend to do whatever I can to keep it that way.
That quote from I Corinthians 13, from which I borrowed for this post's title, also speaks of (depending upon the version) love and charity, among other attributes, which are great coping skills for a caregiver's task.
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