This is a plea for help from any septuagenarians or octogenarians who might read this post. I have a mother who is 83 years old and would like to be fiercely independent, but increasingly needs help. We’re butting heads, but we, her children don’t want to be at odds with our mother.
A few years ago Mother began to have anxiety attacks in her home in Utah. She would get into a crowded place, like a mall, and become disoriented and confused. She had difficulty finding her car and finding her way home.
My sister, with Mother’s cooperation, helped her move to the mountains above Boise, and in her new, quiet home has thrived. She rarely has the anxiety attacks, is mostly independent, but is increasingly unhappy, though she says she loves her new home.
The current situation
She says she loves her new home, but always feels like she is a guest, instead of a family member. She feeds the deer and other animals who frequent the home, and dutifully collects the eggs from the chickens in the coup each day. She is free to pursue whatever pastime suits her fancy, but being 30 minutes north of Boise in the mountains, there are several months of the year when her car won’t make it up and down the mountain roads to get to the highway, so she has to be driven where she wants to go.
When my sister leaves to visit family for extended periods of time she asks one of our siblings to come and stay in the home to help out with the chores and to keep Mother company while she is away. Mother calls us her babysitters, and is highly resentful of the thought that someone is insinuating that she can’t care for herself.
Two years ago, in the winter, when she was going out to collect eggs from the chickens, she fell in the snow and broke her leg. She lay in the snow for more than twenty minutes before someone found her. She called for help, but no one could hear her. She carried a whistle in her pocket to use in case she needed help, but she forgot she had it on her.
With help literally 20 vertical feet away in the upstairs room, she was left lying helpless in the snow in the mountains of Idaho. Fortunately, someone came to the house and discovered her, and one of them happened to be a paramedic.
The laws by which we live
I understand that we live by the laws of addition and subtraction. When we are born, until we are in our thirties, we continually gain in physical and mental abilities. In our thirties we begin to turn that magic corner when we start to notice that we can no longer eat anything we want at any hour of the day without consequences. What once took a few hours of recuperation now takes a day. And in a few years, what took a day to recover from now takes two or even three days for the ill effects of our exertions to dissipate.
Year by year we begin to see all of our physical abilities we once took for granted slipping quietly away. We are now living by the law of subtraction. Little by little we are being stripped of everything we had gained up to our thirties. Our mental dexterity starts to slip and we become accustomed to senior moments. Our physical prowess starts to wind down and we have to give way to the younger crowd to perform acts we used to be able to accomplish with such flair.
Mortality takes back everything it gives, eventually. We grow weaker and weaker. We have to start watching where we place our feet to ensure we don’t fall and hurt ourselves. We have to check ourselves to make sure we used sugar in our food, instead of salt. Those pesky spices start to all look alike. We leave the stove burners or the oven on when we were sure we turned everything off.
My point is that I understand the cycle of life. I am in my early sixties and have experienced much of this process myself, though I don’t know what my mother has experienced. I don’t know how frustrating it is to forget everything, yet be aware that you are forgetting everything. Every book she picks up from her personal library is like reading the stories for the very first time. She has conversations over and over again, because she has forgotten she had them the first time.
Here is my question. If you have experienced these things, did they make you angry with the Lord, or just frustrated with life in general? In church Mother talked about me and my wife as her babysitters, rather than her children. I was hurt by the designation. I heard her make that reference multiple times in various conversations.
We don’t feel like we are babysitting a child. We are here to visit Mother and enjoy her company. Yes, at the same time we want to make sure she is safe, and that if anything were to happen someone would know where she was and be able to come to her aid, but a babysitter?
She seems highly resentful that we make arrangements to always have someone else in the home with her so she isn’t alone. She doesn’t view this display of filial concern with gratitude, but with distrust and resentment. We try to let her call the shots and do what she wants to do, but even she can admit that her limitations are beginning to get in the way of complete independence.
So how do you feel as you see your former self slipping away? Is there a way to view that with any sense of resignation or acceptance? Is there a way to still feel grateful to God for what you can still do, looking forward to the day when you will receive your release from the increasing state of bondage we call old age?
Sometimes I wonder if accepting old age is like accepting cancer, but it just eats away at us longer than cancer does. Some are lucky to meet death with a full head of hair and a healthy body, but most don’t. How can your loved ones step in and help? Is the anger/frustration directed at God or your children? Surely it can’t be directed at yourself, since you have no control over the loss that naturally occurs to us all.
Any insights, suggestions, or personal stories will be gratefully appreciated. All I want is to not be offended by my mother’s increasing resistance to our help as she continues to try to feel forever young.
Kelly, I can answer this from a couple of different perspectives. First, my own aging process. I’m only 63, and I find myself in a fit of house cleaning when I know my kids are coming for fear they will think I can no longer take care of the house. I have a bad back and bad ankles, and certain chores are difficult. Two years ago, we went on vacation. Our son and daughter-in-law decided to do a kind act of service, and cleaned our home from top to bottom. Instead of being grateful, I found myself resentful that they had encroached my territory. I was totally embarrassed they had seen how dirty my stove was, and I know they worked very hard to scrub it down. I thanked them profusely, because I knew they meant well, but inwardly I was angry. Looking back, I know I was angry with my own inadequacies, but I transferred all that anger to them.
Second, my husband. He is 12 years older than I am, and is 75 1/2. Is is still very independent, still drives, volunteers, etc. However, there are certain things we are working out as we go. He has two cornea transplants, which have been a wonderful blessing. However, because of his rare eye disease, he has to wear contact lenses — glasses won’t work. He has worn contacts as long as I’ve known him. Lately, he’s having trouble sometimes inserting the lenses. A couple of times he has mixed them up, and the prescription is completely different. A couple of times he has insisted that the lenses are in his eyes when they are not. He uses a little suction cup tool to remove these special lenses. He has insisted that the lenses are in his eyes when they are not and suctioned his bare corneas which scares me to death, especially since they are old transplants.
He should no longer be driving in the dark, and for the most part, he is fine with turning over the driving to someone else. However, with the time change, it is now dark on Monday mornings when he leaves to go clean the temple. I told him to wake me up this morning, and that I would go with him and sleep in the parking lot (which I’ve done before and have no problem with), but he decided to let me sleep and took off in the dark. We are going to have a conversation about that!
He is a diabetic, and for many years just took pills. He has been on insulin now for more than a year. He can’t see the measurements on the needles well enough to fill them. He wasn’t happy about it, but agreed to let me fill the needles. When he gets ready for bed, I fill two needles — one for bedtime, and one for the next morning (since he is usually up before I get up). I place the nighttime needle at his place at the kitchen table, and the next morning’s needle goes in the middle of the table so he knows which is which (as they are not the same unit of insulin). So we have that worked out well.
His hearing aid tends to work out of his ear, and I take my finger and push it back in so he can hear. He absolutely hates that for some reason, and can’t resist barking at me about it. The other day, I simply said, “Thank you wife, for your kind act of service.” He shut up.
There are some hygiene issues we are working with, as well. Ear wax builds quicker as you age, and he is not good at cleaning his ears. He resents me doing it. He has trouble clipping his toenails. Because he is a diabetic, Kaiser cuts them for him once every two months — which is obviously not enough. I forget to offer to do it for him, and instead of asking me, he will let his toenails cut into his other toes. So, I’m now going to calendar clipping his toenails, and I’m sure he will be barking at me over that, too.
He was so grumpy every Sunday morning as I straightened his tie for church and tucked in his shirt, that one Sunday I just thought, “The heck with this.” So some high priest did it for him and said, “Doesn’t your wife take care of you?” I was livid! So we had an out and out fight about that, and now I “take care of him” before he goes to church without complaint.
I think the main thing is communication. As long as we are communicating about our needs, we are fine. I needed to lose weight for my back and ankles, but he was NOT supportive of my diet, as he loves to go out to eat. Just prior to Christmas, I got an ear infection and went to the doctor, and of course, I stepped on the scale. I came home and told my husband what I weighed, and he was shocked. I took the opportunity to tell him that if he didn’t support me in healthy eating that I was going to die. When I realized that I was FINALLY getting through to him, I expanded that thought and said, “And you’ll be left to care for yourself in your old age.” He’s been VERY supportive!
These conversations just have to be ongoing, because every single day brings on new challenges. I find that it is incredibly important to count our blessings, as well. When I am voice in couple prayers, I often express thanks for this peaceful time in our lives, and acknowledge that we know there will be challenges in the future, but we are happy to have this time together when we are relatively healthy. I find this not only helps me to count my blessings, but it gives my husband perspective.
I hope something I said helps. These things are NOT easy!
Thank you so much Laurie. My wife and I are still in the beginnings of these very kinds of conversations. We were so looking forward to retirement, but then my mother started to go down hill – not quickly, but noticeably, and my wife has started to deteriorate as well. But my wife is like my mother, decidedly independent, and unwilling to admit she needs someone to protect her from herself. I guess the balancing act will be a little bit of keeping the lines of communication open, and a little bit of doing what I feel has to be done for their own benefit, whether they like it or not. I really appreciate your candor.