My Blog

October 15, 2017

Elderly Mothers and My Fellow Travelers

It has been a blessing to have so many friends and even strangers come up to me and say “I went through the same thing with my mother,” or “I am going through what you are going through with my parents.” “Your blog brought back so many memories.”

While we are going through it, focused completely on the day-to-day problems of feeding, bathing, cajoling, convincing and caring for our elderly parents, we forget that there are a myriad of others out there going through very much the same thing. Or who have gone through it in the past. The details may be different, but we are all fellow sufferers on this road.

I constantly hear the refrain, “Oh, you’ll be so glad you had this time together,” or “You’ll appreciate what you’ve done someday,” or “You are earning your wings in Heaven.” Really? I would just as soon take a pass on the wings and get back to living my own life. But this is part of living too.

I think I can see why there are Support Groups for Alcoholics, or PTSD patients, or Divorcees, or Widows, or half a dozen other “maladies.” And I’m sure there must be support groups for those of us caring for elderly parents. The problem is finding the groups and, heaven help us, finding the time to attend.

Having friends and acquaintances come up to me at conferences or meetings and share their stories is the closest I’ll get to it. And it does help., We can laugh or cry or commiserate and know that we aren’t alone. Perhaps we can even gain valuable insights from suggestions given to us by others.

Like give her Ensure with Ice Cream. Or let her sleep in her clothes. Or change her while she’s sitting on the toilet. Or take a break once in a while. Come to think of it, I need to call my friend who is stuck at home with her Mom and take her out to breakfast tomorrow morning while her mother is sleeping in. She has no one to help her. (K, are you available?)

The value of extended families becomes evident at times like these. The Chinese (much to their chagrin after the failure of the “One Child” policy) always wanted to have sons who could care for them in their old age. They were thinking ahead. For the Hispanics, the youngest daughter was expected to remain unmarried and usually got the task. For other cultures, large families gave the elderly the advantage of having many young ones to care for them. The task was not so onerous.

For many years, until her death, my Mexican grandmother lived with my aunt and my seven cousins in a very small apartment in Mexico City. The seven cousins all shared in the job of caring for her. There was always someone around to help. I remember hearing them talk about it but never experienced it myself. In addition to the job of caring for her, they got to hear wonderful stories about life in northern Mexico at the turn of the last century. I’m sorry to have missed that.

My Mexican grandmother had wanted to stay with my father, her eldest son. We had much more room in our spacious five-acre country home. My American mother, however, was not about to have my Mexican grandmother stay with us! Her mother, fine. Daddy built her an apartment on the grounds. Her mother-in-law? No way. I see now, that was a shame.

The next generation didn’t have it so easy. When it came time to take care of my aunt, the seven children had scattered to the four winds. Most were in the United States and too busy to come. One was gone, two didn’t care, two sent money and only one came to help. My blessed cousin, the eldest girl, took care of my aunt for years, by herself, in a tiny two-bedroom two-story condo as my aunt descended into bitter, hurtful, angry Alzheimer’s. And she did it without complaint.

In our modern American world, where families are scattered across the country, the challenge is great. Usually one of the children, whether youngest or oldest doesn’t matter, someone is stuck with –okay, okay, has the opportunity—to care for the elderly parents. Most, however, are now turning to “facilities.” Residential Facilities are, without doubt, what we should all be investing in for the future. That, and robots.

Those with money, contribute funds to stick the parent in a nursing home or Independent Living Facility or an Assisted Living Center. Writing a check or wiring funds is not at all the same thing as the day-to-day chores but it does make life easier on everyone. And there again, having families does help. Having them close by helps even more.

Blessed Sister showed up, unannounced, to take care of Mom for the day while I was gone. Yes, families do matter. And having friends who have gone through it too matters even more!

Sending love and best wishes out there to all of us. Remember, we aren’t alone.

About Caroline Castillo Crimm
Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!
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