We boomers have now reached the stage in life where we're caring for our aging parents. Add it to the list of everything else we're juggling. As a longtime caregiver for my wheelchair-bound, brain-impaired dad, I speak from experience.
Because I'm an elder care specialist, I'm constantly hit up by friends for advice about how to address their mom's forgetfulness or erratic driving. I offer sound, practical suggestions which are almost invariably ignored. Predictably, after a crisis, my girlfriends lament their head-in-the-sand approach, realizing that they could have prevented the calamity. So why don't they do something before mom falls and breaks her hip or starts a kitchen fire? To put it more bluntly: "Why are we killing our mothers?"
We boomers mean to do well by our parents. We squelch any thoughts of placement, having been raised on horror stories of children dumping their unsuspecting mom in a facility, while falsely assuring her she's just visiting. Many of our mothers have extracted the "I'll never put you in a nursing home" promise from us. We've crossed our heart and pledged that Mom will die peacefully at home, in her own bed, surrounded by loved ones. It all sounds good. But, as it turns out, mom's dying isn't the hard part. The challenge is to properly care for her during the extended period of her declining health.
As I see it, most of us are at best neglecting, and at worst hastening, our beloved mother's death by our own guilt-fueled paralysis. These unintended consequences stem from the fact that most of us are blissfully ignorant about elder care. Unlike the newest tech gadget, we choose to remain clueless because even thinking about it implicates our own mortality and who wants to go there? But, denial doesn't work when you live in an earthquake zone. Did you know that every 29 minutes an adult over the age of 65 dies from a fall? Or that 15 older adults are killed, and another 500 injured, in car crashes every day?
We like to tell ourselves later is soon enough. After all, Mom's erratic driving hasn't caused any damage beyond scratched paint and even though she's increasingly forgetful she still has good days. Our motto seems to be "Why do today what you can put off to tomorrow?"
Even those of us who take the first step of educating ourselves about the unappealing worlds of in-home care and assisted living, shy away from broaching the subject for fear of a confrontation. This avoidance rationale is often used by doctors who neglect to counsel their obese patients about the health risks of being overweight.
Boomers need to face facts: no one gets out alive. Mom is going to die. She needs our help to have a good quality life as her body, and perhaps her mind, fails. Boomers love to talk about "giving back" to the community. How about showering some of this largess on the person who's earned the payback?
Watching and waiting is sure-fire way to induce disaster. Stop pretending you don't see the elephant in the room. Talk to your mom and give her reasonable alternatives. But don't be shocked if mom bridles at the thought of giving up her independence. Wouldn't you? Just put your facemask on and tough it out. This transition will require time and patience, but this is the loving approach. As an added bonus, you'll sleep more soundly and have less guilt when Mom dies.
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