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.