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Posts Tagged ‘older parents’

A sudden chill

In aging, domestic life, family, life, love, men, seniors on October 11, 2014 at 12:01 am

By Caitlin Kelly

His bicep still feels like a wall, solid and strong.

His energy and curiosity have long since out-paced that of his peers.

He just spent a month sailing in Greece with a friend.

That's him, helping me into my heels before my second wedding

That’s him, helping me into my heels before my second wedding

But, for the first time, during a recent visit, my 85-year-old father finally, suddenly, felt old to me. And, to his clear dismay and surprise, to himself.

We’ve never had a smooth, easy relationship. He’s missed many of my birthdays and we rarely do Christmas together. He made it to both my weddings and walked me down the aisle.

We’ve had arguments so loud and ferocious I debated cutting off all contact with him.

But he’s my only father.

And I am, in many ways — competitive, stubborn, voraciously curious, a world traveler with a host of interests, artistic — very much like him.

A film-maker and director of television documentaries, he rarely hesitated to piss people off, preferably on their dime, a trait I’ve also inherited in my work as a journalist. Gone for months working while I was growing up, he’d bring home the world — literally: a caribou skin rug and elbow length sealskin gloves from the Arctic, Olympic badges from Japan, a woven Afghani rifle case, a hammered metal bowl from Jerusalem.

In the 60s, when I was at boarding school, his gold Jaguar XKE would pull into the parking lot and whisk me away for a day of fun., often a long walk through the countryside.

We’ve since driven through Mexico and Ireland, shared a tent while driving across Canada the summer I was 15  and drove from Montreal to Savannah, admiring the Great Dismal Swamp in the rain. Much of our time has been spent in motion.

We rarely, if ever, discuss feelings. It’s just not something we do.

But it’s sad, frightening, disorienting — inevitable — to suddenly see him tired, limping, sobered and chastened by mortality after a lifetime of tremendous health, good luck and international adventure.

I’m not used to him being human.

Who Cares For The Caregiver?

In antiques, art, behavior, children, domestic life, family, Health, life, love, parenting, women on February 18, 2011 at 4:44 am
Old Town, Victoria, British Columbia, includin...

Victoria, B.C. Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been in Victoria, B.C. for only two days, after flying from New York, where I live. I’m here, the only child, with a shared power of attorney with a friend of my mother’s, to put my mom — one of the most ferociously private and independent women I’ve ever met — into a nursing home. She is only 76.

To describe this week as painful and sad and wrenching is to understate the maelstrom of emotions threatening to engulf us both. Yet there is no time to zone out emotionally or intellectually, no matter how tempting.

Despite my own fears, sadness, jet lag, fatigue and general sense of overhelmedness, like everyone trying to be a caregiver, I must be on, present, attentive, meticulous in my attention to every detail — from the screwdriver I need to borrow (a Philips head? not sure) to detach the antique medicine cabinet in the upstairs bathroom to sell at auction to the 24-paragraph contract I signed today with the nursing home, the one with so  many contingencies it made my head spin.

The most challenging piece of all this? Taking care of myself.

So, which is not at all typical of how I handle my life, I am telling almost everyone I meet here, from the clerk at the grocery store to the woman selling me a mid-afternoon cappuccino, why I’m here, and savoring, gratefully, the kindness I encounter. Victoria is the Florida of Canada, the one city where so many Canadian seniors choose to retire — and often end up moving into a nursing home here. So everyone, from the attorney to the auctioneer, knows the territory and how it feels for the caregiver rushed into a welter of decisions.

What to sell? What to keep?

How do I break the news, as I had to this afternoon, sitting on the bed beside her in the hospital (where she has been for 3.5 months) that my mother’s new home — one small room — simply does not have room for two chests of drawers. Just one. Which would she prefer?

It is a hideous and heartbreaking question to ask. I wish she could have stayed in the other room we found — twice its size and easily holding many more of her beloved things. But the owner of that nursing home was a really nasty piece of work and also refused to accommodate my mother’s newly-discovered celiac disease.

There is no way to make life in one small room, eating meals with 52 strangers beneath extremely bright overhead lights, especially alluring.

And then I gave her, too soon perhaps, probably the worst possible news she could have heard, beyond a terminal diagnosis. She is a woman who traveled South America alone in her 40s, lived alone in Lima and Bath and Roswell, NM after married life in London and Vancouver and Toronto….it was, that because of her damaged lungs, she will likely never be allowed to fly in an airplane again.

Her shoulders sagged and I wished more than anything I could have snatched those words back again. But I could not. I cannot.

And she lives a six-hour flight away from me, an impossible distance for her to travel by car or train or bus. Neither can either of us, for several reasons, move closer to one another.

So I despair of my inability to comfort her and turn back the clock. I feel powerless and angry and sad.

So I call my sweetie and he hugs me over the phone. I sleep a deep, restorative 9 to 10 hours every night. I have a beer or a glass of wine. I sort through my mother’s linens and books and dishes and glasses and wonder when or where someone will do this for me. I vow to return home and clear to the bare walls our garage and storage lockers full of…stuff.

Here’s a fantastic, detailed story by author Gail Sheehy about coping with her husband’s cancer from the March issue of Woman’s Day on caregiving. The issue also contains a story about how to prepare for this role, with lots of practical advice.

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