My mother turned 98 in February. She does pretty well for her age but of late, I’ve noticed changes. She has trouble finding words to express herself and little skills, like knowing how to use a knife and fork, sometimes escapes her. When I intervene by filling in the missing word or reaching across the table to break her food into smaller portions, a cloud shadows her face. I suspect the look is composed of one part worry about herself and one part annoyance with me.
Caring for a parent is nothing like raising children. Children have always been dependent. They suffer no humiliation from having their bread buttered. But role reversal for a parent is fraught with pitfalls. So how does a child help an aging mother or father retain dignity?
Sunny Gold offers some no-nonsense advice in Scientific American Mind. ( “How to Be a Better Son or Daughter,” March/April 2014, pg. 19) She provides 4 simple rules, but they aren’t easy to follow.
Rule I: Have a happy life. Parents care about their off-spring. If the child is unhappy, the parent will be unhappy also. Rule 2: Accept help from your parents. Allowing them to feel useful gives them a purpose. Rule 3: Don’t tell your parents what to do. Be ready to help, instead. Rule 4: Have patience. (Ibid pg. 19)
For me, the last rule is the hardest. Recently, I became agitated while doing a search for my mother’s glasses. I whirled about her room like a dust devil, opening and closing drawers, checking under the bed, digging deep into the gaps between the pillows of the furniture. Finally my mother, whose greatest pleasure comes when I sit down to talk to her, had had enough. “Cool it,” she croaked in her 98 year-old-voice.
Her tone, different from her usual one, snapped me to attention. “Cool it?” I echoed as my mouth fell open. “That’s right. Cool it,” she said again.
Noting her squared jaw, I fell into a nearby chair and laughed. For a moment, my mother was my mother again. For a moment we’d returned to our familiar places. She was not my child and if I wanted to keep that equilibrium, all I had to remember was to give her a chance.
(Courtesy of www.scai.org)