As we age it's inevitable that our
priorities shift from raising kids,
to caring for our parents. There's
little in life odder than shifting
from being a subservient child to
masterful care provider. Suddenly
the one who once ruled the roost
becomes feeble, confused, and
vulnerable. Thus post a lifetime
of submission we're in control.
Meaning we're in the drivers seat
holding all of the cash, insurance
cards, keys, and responsibility.
My parents lived life as always
well into their eighties. Even as
my father advanced in his battle
against Alzheimer's, Mother was
resolved to act as if nothing was
happening. Together they hit the
road (Ethel refused to fly) to visit
their familiar haunts and friends.
All as Mother painted, puttered,
and pushed everyone around. Yet
their world slowly contracted as
Howard's disease eradicated all
traces of the man he once was.
Then suddenly, the phone rang and
I was in charge. It was that abrupt,
final, and complete. The fragility of
old age means the elderly live on the
brink of seismic change while lulled
into a false sense of security. Then
illness, money, or a fall changes all.
After that call it was clear that my
parents could no longer live solo
nor make decisions about "next".
Over the following years I moved
my parents into several facilities.
Curating the remnants of their life
into a pseudo simulation of home.
First assisted living. Then we had
to place Dad in the memory ward.
Mother slowly faded into a shadow
of her former self. It's sad that our
best solution is consigning old folks
to a geriatric dormitory. Thus after
a lifetime of independence, they've
no choice but to live in what is at
best an antiseptic commune.
In the end Ethel had one thing that
kept her going, caring for Howard.
Rather than sit in her posh Assisted
Living apartment, she sat with Dad
all day long. Rather than dine on a
white tablecloth, she spoon fed him
hospital food in the Alzheimer's
wing. Rather than allow Dad to be
forgotten, Mother valiantly (and
vociferously) fought to get him the
best care possible. After all, he had
pampered and cared for her most of
her adulthood. Now it was his turn.
As quickly as my life changed with
that one call, the mania suddenly
just ended. Howard finally left us
after an eighteen year battle with
Alzheimer's. Ten months later, so
did Ethel. With her beloved gone,
she had no reason to live. In the
end I was left behind with a void
I had no idea would be so huge.
One assumes parents will always
be with us. And yet even after
they're gone, their memory is still
with us... like an amputated limb.
I worry about what could happen to
two elderly gay gents way out in rural
Montana. Our home is set up to host
the accouterments of advanced age.
We even have a basement apartment
that can host any caregivers. The last
thing we want is to be a burden to
others.And so we're doing whatever
possible to grow old gracefully. NOT
in a home, but rather AT HOME.