Twenty three years ago we had the good fortune to live next door to the best neighbors ever, Jann and Pat and their two precious daughters, Keelin and Aislinn. The girls were then about five and eight and Hubby Flatbottom and I enjoyed them as if they were our own. It was like having favorite family right next door.
After several years of games and laughter, parties and costumes, long walks with the dogs and exciting adventures down at the creek, we each moved away to different places and different lives. As sometimes happens, we lost track of each other, but none of us ever forgot the happy times.
Three months ago, Jann looked us up on Facebook. Sure enough, to our immense pleasure, we reconnected. Social Media is good for something. Pat and Jann had moved out to the country west of Austin, and we had moved out to the country north of Huntsville.
Texas is big, but it’s not so big we can’t get together. I drove over to see them and it was like coming home. Pat and Jann hadn’t changed at all, but Aislinn and Keelin—as sometimes happens—have grown up into gorgeous young women. Amazing what twenty years can do!
What brought us together was our shared experiences with our elderly parents. Jann began reading my blogs about my elderly mother after years of caring for her elderly father. I just thought I had it bad. He had been a hard charging professional and refused to accept his age and infirmity, taking out his frustrations on Jann. Unlike my sister, hers lives out in way West Texas and was rarely available to help
After he retired, her father had worked for Victims’ Services in Austin and lived on his own in a condo. He continued to drive long after he should have, giving Jann fits. When he began to get forgetful, she had to care for him for years, (not) patiently putting up with his increasing ill will. When she finally got him into assisted living (I asked her how on earth she did it), he blamed her for everything. Of course, she has stories by the dozens as bad or worse than mine.
Unlike a hoarder, and much like my mother, he became a “purger” throwing out anything he didn’t want. He also worried, like Mom, about not being in control. Buying things was one way to retain that power. He could, and did, buy half-a-dozen or a dozen of one thing or another, just in case.
Jann says he bought not one, but three electric scooters. One was to get from the house to his van, and one each to load into two vans that he bought, after removing the rear seats. Two vans just in case one didn’t work.
He had decided he wanted to work doing surveillance (the vans were bright red) but he was furious that one had running lights. Someone might notice him, he said, but when the dealership couldn’t or wouldn’t take off the running lights, he returned the van—without the back seats which he had purged.
Back in the days before blogs, Jann could only vent to her sister. She spent hours texting, often from the doctor’s offices when he began one of his rants. She reported that she wanted to crawl under the furniture, and would have but she couldn’t fit. She and I both knew that feeling.
Caring for someone is so much harder when you feel as though you are the only one going through the painful, frustrating and incredibly difficult times. When Jann read my stories, which were not nearly as difficult as her own, all should could do was laugh. My tales of woe brought back her memories that now, in retrospect, seemed humorous. They didn’t at the time.
Last night over the dinner table (thank you, Pat for the delicious Spanish Chicken stew) with plenty of wine, we laughed until our sides ached. It was such a pleasure to be able to share our stories. There is no one like good friends and close neighbors who know and understood.
As beautiful thirty-one year-old Aislinn laughed with us, I wondered if we have learned our lesson. What kind of elderly parents will we be twenty years down the line?