July 11, 2007

This is a Sad Post

I am currently contemplating a pretty heavy topic.

My Dad, who I am just like, said something today that he meant to tell my sister and I at a later date, not at all in the middle of grief.

My uncle passed away today. For the past year or so, my cousin has lived in his house and cared for him on a daily basis. She has given up her own life to care for her ailing father. She has sacrificed work, time with her kids and husband, her softball coaching, for her Dad. And I would bet all I have that if you asked her yesterday, tomorrow or a year from now, she would say it was completely worth it. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

My Dad today, when he called to tell me about Uncle L, in his sadness, let it slip that he had something he wanted to discuss, but at a later time. I said some flippant remark like I usually do and he said, well, if I or your mom am in a situation like my brother, put us in a home. Don’t stop your life to care for us when we are in a bad way.

It is difficult to respond, first off to the overwhelming grief that had already hit me and then to a statement like that.

I said that I bet my cousin found it very rewarding and wouldn’t have had it any other way. But….it may have been safer for all involved if my uncle would have been cared for at a facility. This is of course, in hindsight, after a couple scary incidents, involving lack of meds and my uncle being a large man. And another involving an oxygen mask and an overwhelming desire for a cigarette.

These situations could have been both avoided if he had been cared for outside of his home and more easily handled if they had occurred elsewhere.

My first response was, I appreciate his concern that I shouldn’t sacrifice my lifestyle to care for my ailing parent. But that I would do it anyway, if there was a way.

Each circumstance varies. Each of us leaves this world in a different fashion. Old age is kind to some and absolutely cruel to others.

If a person has Alzheimer’s, a nursing home is probably best. If a person is just getting older with various parts slowly dying like they do on my Corolla, why can’t they be cared for by their loving children?

There are financial concerns, of course. Lack of retirement and long-term care savings hamper choices for some seniors and create more dependency on their children. From what I know of nursing home expenses, unless a person is in a well-paid profession, they might be better off leaving their work for a while to care for their elderly parent.

More important, however, are the physical limitations. I find it hard to imagine me caring for my father at his current size. He is at least 2.5x my weight. I would be unable to adequately care for him in certain ways when it came to physically demanding tasks. Further, if his mental capacity had diminished, his larger size could be a danger to us both if he got upset like my uncle had done.

How about the emotional toll? Is it better to watch a parent deteriorate before your eyes, or on a weekly … monthly basis locked away from you with someone else taking care of their last needs? Is the guilt lessened if you sacrifice your life to care for them in the last months or years of their lives as opposed to paying someone else to do so? What about the time you take away from your kids? Your spouse? How about the toll that your kids bear watching grandma or grandpa slowly decline in health before them? Is this outweighed by their continued presence in their lives?

What are your thoughts?

I am not sure where I lie right now. I would like to respect my dad’s wishes. However, I was never very good at doing as he asked. And I can't imagine letting someone else be with him in his last moments.

2 comments:

Jagular said...

My mother tried telling me that line. The one about "I don't want to be a burden on anyone."
So I asked her if I was a burden when I was a baby. Of course she said no.
So I told her that I was offended and that I never wanted to hear any more talk about a family member ever being a burden on me.
Seems to have done the trick so far.

Sauntering Soul said...

I've been thinking about this kind of stuff quite a bit lately since my parents are currently going through a divorce. My dad is not in the best of health (he's diabetic and does not take care of himself, he fell off a ladder and broke his back last fall, he fell down the stairs this spring and injured his eye, etc.) and it scares me to think what could be right around the corner for us to handle. My brothers and I keep saying we need to sit down and make some decisions on how we would deal with care taking if something happens to him, but so far we've just avoided the subject.

I'd love to say that I would willingly give up my life to care for him full time, but when I really think about what that would involve, I have to be completely honest and say I'm not positive I would do it without thinking twice or that it wouldn't feel like a burden on me. Maybe some of those feelings come from the fact that he's made the choice to have quite a superficial relationship with all of us over the years. Or maybe it's because of something in me (which is not pleasant to look in the mirror and admit to myself). Probably a little of both.

 
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