Life is like summer feet. Just when you think you’ve weathered the prickly paths of adolescence, passed your exams, established your career, and worked through marriage and nurturing, all the sudden your aging parents poke you like sharp shells along the seashore.
I remember when mom used to drop us off at the pool. If it were the beginning of the summer, we would ooch, eech and ouch our way across the jagged crushed rock parking lot longing for the flat and warm cement entrance that lay ahead. No one bothered with flip flops, despite reminders, and by August you could find us gleefully racing across flatfooted.
It was like that growing up. Whether we chose to wear shoes or succumb to the seasonal wear and tear was our decision; we were expected to stand on our own. For example, there were two choices after high school: college or the military, and instead of wishing we would come back home to find work eventually, mom and dad encouraged us to put down our own roots in exciting places where they would enjoy visiting.
Maybe it was the small town mentality, being that our tiny corner of southwestern Ohio offered limited job opportunities. Maybe it was simply restlessness on their part, better known as that age-old yearning to be some place else. Regardless, we have not been a Sunday night dinner family.
These days my three siblings and I are desperately lacing back together to help our parents as they confront the endless decisions that come with being 80. Mom successfully managed the business of the household and the care for my dad by herself for six years before his Alzheimer’s Disease began settling into the late stages last fall. Dad is now living in a dementia care facility, and she is getting a much deserved break.
This decision followed many emails, phone calls and texts that questioned and investigated the benefits and pitfalls of having our parents stay at home or moving them to be near one of us. There were all sorts of living and care situations to consider, and my parents’ wishes to grant. Today there are ongoing weight loss, confusion and safety issues, and I feel guilty that my brother, living an hour away, is providing most of the support.
Our disparate locales and agonizing helplessness has me wondering whether families ought to stay put in the first place. The high cost of health care and the difficulty people have saving enough money for their retirement practically demands that children take care of their parents nowadays. This economy-driven, technologically mobile, job seeking American Dream thing has families all scattered and mixed up, doesn’t it? Too bad Skype can’t cook a meal, clean out the upstairs’ closets or drive mom to the tax accountant’s office.
Nonetheless, our particular situation reminds me that there are no cushions in life, and likewise no universal ‘right way’ when it comes to senior care. It’s like trudging through the deep sand for as long as your calves can take it before leaping over to where the waves are lapping and the shore is hard panned. You know you’re going to squish in and feel the shells and coral between your toes at some point.
For this season, it might be time to slow down, back up and put my shoes on.