When my dad became terminally ill, at my insistence, he and my mom moved into our home. It was easier for my sisters and me to support my mom and take care of my dad under these circumstances. My sister and her family lived only minutes from us, which made caregiving easier. Our large home also served as our family residence when other sisters and family members came to Cleveland from Chicago, Atlanta and California to help out.
Having my aging parents living with me afforded a certain level of assurance, as well as heightened my anxiety to levels that I had not previously known. As my father's health failed, the treasured moments spent sitting at his bedside, watching him sleep, brought me comfort. Sitting with him at the kitchen table, watching him bring food to his mouth and later supporting him to raise the fork to get the food in his mouth were special moments that brought me joy. Most of all, I recall the peace I experienced going to his bedroom every morning before I left for work to check to see if he was breathing and to get a good visual of his face. In case his condition changed while I was at work, I wanted to hold onto those peaceful images.
I was grateful for those images on the day when I rushed home from work, only to jump in the car with my mom and sister and follow the ambulance that took him to the hospital. That hospital would be our home for a week; then hospice became our home for several weeks; then on December 21st that year my dad entered his heavenly home.
I join many baby boomers who have the responsibility and most often, privilege, of taking care of aging parents. My mom, at 85 years old, still lives with us. There are daily reminders that she is still my parent. I find myself obliging her by calling home when I will be late and reviewing my schedule with her so that she knows my whereabouts. I know she will be disappointed to the point of mild anger, if I eat a big lunch and am not hungry enough to eat the dinner she has prepared that evening. She is wonderfully healthy and stays busy every day cooking, washing clothes, sewing, taking Tai Chi classes and going to lunch with her new friends. Despite her good health, before I leave for work every morning, I go into her bedroom, wake her to make sure she is okay and stare at her to get a good visual -- just in case her condition changes before I return.
My emotional condition of choice is anxiety. I come by it honestly. My mom worries about how much she worries. She worries about her health, but she also does not admit to any ailments and is not transparent about them because it will only give her cause to worry more. And besides, if she goes to the doctor, he will only give her bad news that will be cause for more worry. Knowing all of this causes me to worry that she is not providing full disclosure. As a result, I am not fully aware of all I need to be worried about regarding her health.
I do not worry about resources to provide for her care since we have adequate resources. I do not worry about her getting competent care, since I personally know so many outstanding physicians. I do not worry about her emotional health since we are blessed with wonderful family and friends. Her spiritual health is even covered by our priest friends who are like family to us.
I do worry that Mommy will say that she is "fine" while she waits for the condition to worsen to make it worth the time and expense to see the doctor. I worry that she says she is "fine" because she diagnosed her conditions using her 1990 doctor's guidebook. I worry that she will not tell me her ailments because "I treat her like she's ninety years old," instead of the spry, youthful eighty-five that she is.
So, I wake her from her sound sleep every morning to make sure she is breathing. I scrutinize her schedule to make sure she isn't exerting herself too much. And I worry that she is not telling me the full story of her health. I worry that her condition will change while I am at work or away. I worry that she is worrying and not telling me so that I can worry. My only recourse it to check to make sure she is breathing and stare at her to get a good visual. It does not stop the worrying but it does provides me with some peace.