A friend spoke to me today about our different reactions to the care of our aging parents. She seems to think I’m more accepting of my elderly father’s insistence on having his way than she is of her mother’s foibles. Maybe it’s true, but no matter how we deal with the problems that arise with elderly parents, it will always be difficult. To our parents, we are eternal children who lack the necessary skills to navigate through life. More than that, it’s difficult for them to see what is so obvious to us — that they are no longer the strong-bodied and strong-minded people they once were. All that is left is the strong will they are determined to exert even if they no longer have the means of assessing the situation.
Although my run-ins with my father do bother me at the time they happen, I quickly let the frustration go. For the most part, I don’t see that it makes any difference what he does, and besides, I’ve used up my cajolability. If he wants to eat ice cream for every meal, that’s his prerogative. I’m not going to cajole him into eating healthily. If he doesn’t want to do his breathing treatments, well, that’s his choice too. He’s 97 years old. His various medications can only help him be more comfortable. They can’t cure his congestive heart failure, his COPD, his prostate problems. Nor can they give him what he most needs — a modicum of youth.
I suppose it’s possible my blasé attitude comes more from exhaustion than acceptance. I’ve been here for four years watching him deteriorate at an increasingly rapid rate, and there’s not much I can do except watch.
This particular wage of daughterhood is so hard that some days I want to run away, but running away won’t change the situation, just remove me from the equation. I suppose if I had somewhere to go, I would go, but as of right now, only emptiness awaits me when I leave here. I’ll have to start rebuilding my life, and I don’t really have any strong inclinations to do one thing or another. I’d like to keep taking dance lessons, of course, but other than that . . . nothing.
And so I stay, answering my father’s summons when he wants something, checking on him when he doesn’t, and dealing with the other strange elements of my life the rest of the time. (My dysfunctional brother and the sister who has come to help with our father.)
Some day there will only be me to consider.
People tease me and tell me I will miss all this. I doubt that I will miss any of it, and yet there has been so much insane drama during the past fifteen months that the emptiness of my life afterward will seem even emptier by comparison.
I’m trying not to look to the future, though. For a while, dreaming impossible dreams helped me feel alive and made me believe that one day things will be different, but for now all I can do is hunker down and survive each day the best I can.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.