Posted: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 9:19:13 PM
I’m a ‘Boomer in what’s been called the “sandwich generation” – we care for both children (or grandchildren) and elderly parents. I don’t have kids, so I guess I’m an open-faced sandwich: I’ve lost my Dad, but my 83-year-old mother is going strong. I’m very lucky and grateful that she’s able to live alone in her own home. But in 2009, she had a scary bad fall and I supervised her recovery. I learned many life lessons throughout the process. One was to never bring up moving unless she initiates the conversation.
The Big Moving Question
After her fall and return home, she had a course of physical therapy (she had broken both her shoulder and hip), wasn’t able to drive and had to use a walker. I suggested maybe her house was too much to manage. Oops. Was I suggesting she wasn’t capable? No, I just thought a small apartment might be a good choice – where someone else would shovel snow and she wouldn’t fall on the ice.
Fortunately, my mother made a full recovery, but still had limitations in the range of motion of her arm and walking was trickier. She began to talk about wanting to go look at condos. What? Last I heard this was out of the question. We set up some tentative visits to assisted living and apartment communities in the area.
She Changes Her Mind
When I next talked with my mother, I asked if she was up for some apartment-hunting. She said, “What makes you think I want to move?” “Well, the last time we talked, you were interested in looking,” I responded. “No, I’ve decided I want to stay here.” Okay… Now, I should mention that even at 83, my mother’s mental faculties are not at all diminished. She has no memory issues. In fact I’m often told, “Nancy, I told you that before.” To illustrate how sharp she is, she reads and understands her Medicare benefit booklet.
I’ve been a social worker and therapist for over twenty years and have worked with the elderly, families, adolescents and couples. But I’ll tell you that none of that clinical knowledge is effective when dealing with your own parents. My experience has been that you go from 50-something to seven years old in less than 10 seconds.
I’ll pass on some other things I’ve learned from this relationship.
• Never second-guess or assume – Don’t assume anything until you hear it from the horse’s mouth. I thought my mother would love a 25 lb. bag of cat litter (she’s only supposed to lift 7-8 lbs.). No, she doesn’t use the clumping kind. Oh…sorry I lugged it to your house.
• Respect the independence – Even if that parent isn’t able to do everything themselves, let them retain whatever feeling of independence they have. I found that out after threatening to tell my mother’s cardiologist how much McDonald’s she was consuming. “If I want a double cheeseburger, I’m driving there and getting one!”
• You Will Never Have the Last Word – Give up any illusion or semblance of control over an elderly parent. They are right and you’re not. Even if you find reliable data to back up your argument, just let it go. If your parent heard it from another volunteer at church, as opposed to the Mayo Clinic, it must be true.
Don’t even think about sneaking her out for a drive by that nice, new senior-living apartment complex. You’re just asking for it.