Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Choices & Risks

It is April 4th and Mom’s 81st Birthday. While this is about dad's brain tumour, mom's illness has a huge impact on the family. Both the two of them, and the rest of us: my daughter, sons and husband.
After a day spent cleaning, sorting and trying to get my head around my new classroom in Parry Sound, I drove to Bala for a visit and dinner. As usual, with Mom’s obsession with perfection, everything is preplanned. All of Mom’s parties were done with panache and grace. She very clearly has a menu. Two neighbours are invited and are here when I arrive. They are terrific family friends, helpful women, both widows, who have done a great deal to help mom and dad continue to live here in their home. One of them picks up the family newspaper, get the mail, and picks up items from town and the other does the Kitty litter every day, amongst other chores.
We make the meal and the three of us work at it, while Mom is on the couch. She is tiring out as she directs the work from where she lays. She wants a particular dish for a particular food item. We cannot quite figure out which is which. Are we ever stressed! I tell her that we cannot find the right green bowl for the chutney; another bowl will have to do.
She said, “It’s my birthday. I can do it my way.” Absolutely adamant! I now understand that I cannot change anything. Mom wants to remain in control of the small things, since she has lost control of the big ones. We announce dinner. We gather round the table, even Mom. Mom manages a few mouthfuls and goes back to lie down on the couch. It is shocking how ill she truly has become.
Dad is back to his chair, reading the newspaper. His tumour is back and he is to have radiation. Robin will take time off work later in the month. This new reality is hard to reconnoiter.
Once of the issues of aging is aging gracefully and with dignity. Seniors needs to make choices that take everyone into account. A senior with ill health impacts on their spouse, their adult children, the community, town, and society. Seniors driving who cannot see properly, or make decisions, or hear traffic have an impact on other drivers. Seniors who make demands on family members and neighbours need to make choices about their situation. We raise our children to act as responsible adults. As adults, we need our parents to make choices that respect us as family members. Stories abound about 90-year old seniors staying alone when they are unable to either cook, or remember to cook. They end up making phone calls at all hours of the day to family members who may not be in a position to support them. I know I was torn between my adult children and my ailing parents. If our parents will not make choices that respect the impact on others, then we, as adult children are responsible.

The same is true for one's spouse. As adults we have to make choices that look after us as caregivers. If you are caring for an ailing spouse with dementia there comes a point when you cannot cope. There comes a time when you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself. Dementia is a scary symptom and difficult to deal with beyond a certain stage.

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