The ravages of age were familiar to me. My elderly aunts and uncles had passed on. Listening to my parent’s aches and pains in their seventies, I had realized aches and pains of middle age in my forties. Getting up in the morning can be slower than before. Mom and Dad, since their 50s had fought arthritis, cholesterol, and weight issues, and were pretty careful with their health. They would work long hours at events in town, supporting the volunteer network. They slowed down in their sixties and I began to monitor them more and more during this time. There were clues that their visits to the pharmacist were becoming more serious by the sheer volume of drugs. Mom had lactose intolerance, and debilitating colitis: a stress-induced diarrhea. She was an extreme worrier and it resulted in her having to wear adult diapers when driving a long way or going into church or choir practice. The smallest stress would send her off to the toilet. Dad was taking 8 pills a day, polypharmacy that put him at great risk.
In my mind I had already looked ahead to the last chapter in my parent’s lives after my first husband’s mother contracted lung cancer. She was heavy smoker and it was not a surprise. I read all I could at that time and began to understand the philosophy of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief. With the strong bonds I had developed with my mother, I knew that we could honour that past, while grieving in the present. I could foresee that time as my parents began recognizing and showing signs of the aging process. Slowly they began giving up the physical activities they could not longer manage: mowing the lawn, shovelling snow, raking snow off of the roof, stacking the cords of wood they needed for their wood stove, and they began to hire people for those purposes.
I worry about adult children, like myself, who must help frail parents die with dignity in a relationship that is less than whole. I was adopted into a loving family by parents who always let me know that I was loved and supported me through marriage, divorce and a stressful career in education. I laud those who work with ailing seniors. It is a difficult job, especially for Personal Support Workers (PSW) with little training and low pay. There is a great myth that revolves around seniors: benign grey-haired men and women who sip tea in their retirement homes. Such people do exist, mind you, but they are the minority on Long-Term Care (LTC) homes.
Those in LTC can be angry, anxst-ridden people who would prefer to remain in their own homes but cannot due to their inabilities to manage the Activities of Daily Living (ADL). ADL include daily bathing, grooming, dressing, eating, mobility and pain management needs. How difficult it must be to be placed in an institution with “a lot of old, sick people”, to quote my late father (stricken, at the time, with a recurring brain tumour).