Taking care of an aged parent is a challenge, with new tests — and testiness — arising every day. The biggest problem, of course, is that the parents want to be babied while giving up none of their parental authority. (They seem to forget that such authority had expired decades previously when we grew up, left home, and developed our own life with our own unique responsibilities.)
A friend cautioned me against coming to take care of my father — she knew first hand the challenges I would face. But for the most part, he and I have managed to deal together okay, mostly because I adopted a policy of doing whatever he needed but nothing that he could do for himself. (He wanted me to wait on him like some unpaid servant, or like my mother did for the sixty years they were married.) After his recent hospitalization and an ensuing bout with pneumonia (he refused to sit in a chair or take walks while hospitalized, saying he had patients’ rights, and he had the right to refuse any treatment, so the pneumonia came as no surprise), I’m having a hard time resetting those parameters. He simply won’t do anything for himself, even though he is still strong and reasonably healthy for his age. (He says it tires him. I want to say “get over it,” though I don’t.)
And then there is the problem of the household finances. When he lost his ability to think clearly and keep enough numbers in his head to reconcile his accounts, he turned the household finances over to me.
When he is unwell, everything goes smoothly. He says he trusts me, and that I have permission to arrange matters (and papers) most convenient for me. When he is well, he forgets that trust, rummages around in his desk, puts everything back the way he had it, disarranges my work and makes my to-do list disappear.
Yikes. What a balancing act — letting him think he is still in control while making sure the bills get paid and balky appliances get fixed.
I figure if he’s well enough to mess around with such matters, he’s well enough to get his own meager meals, but he doesn’t see it that way. I try to be patient, realizing it must be hard to be ninety-seven years old and dependent on a daughter, but I also can’t forget that I am that daughter, with a life of my own. I never took a vow of obedience to him. Never signed on to be a servant. I’m just the designated daughter, the unattached one who got stuck with the awkward situation.
I’m hoping in the next week or so things smooth out and I can stop being at his beck and call. Well, I will stop — that’s a given. I just don’t know how that will sit with him.
And so it continues, my paying the wages of daughterhood.
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.