I’m Raising A Glass To All Of You Dealing With An Aging Parent
This is how we become alcoholics right? I’m not going to have a drink at seven thirty in the morning, but this weekend my husband purchased me some lovely splits of sparking wine and some peach juice and I could technically use a Bellini right now. Or three. I can’t give you specifics, even though I’d love to, hell, come on over and have a Bellini with me and I will give you so many specifics and you would pat my arm and remind me that this too, shall pass. And it will pass, because the person causing me so much stress at the moment is OLD, old as in not for this world much longer and I need to remember this, I need to conduct myself with grace and kindness and patience.
The sort of patience I have not had to practice since my own children were toddler age.
My mother-in-law is visiting, due to some soap-opera level drama that I won’t go into here. And she is old, 80-years-old. And she isn’t happy. I work almost full time and my husband works more than full time and because I work at home I am caring for her. She is mobile and capable of doing many things by herself, but she doesn’t like to do them much. I don’t do things the right way, the coffee I make is too hot, the eggs I cook too runny, and I don’t have things that she needs at any given moment. Because even though I know she loves candy and I basically purchased an entire Dylan’s Candy Bar emporium for my house I do not have suckers. I do not have the right mystery books she enjoys reading. I do not get the LOCAL paper delivered and I do not have enough hand towels and I do not have scissors that are small enough or red pens or a bag, a small bag with a long skinny strap. I lost her diamond earrings she had left in her pant’s pocket when I was doing her laundry and even though they were not big earrings they were very expensive and good, they were good diamonds, and I called my husband at the office in tears and checked the dryer lint filter and the rubber door lip of the washer and my children combed the floor carpets in search of these earrings and they weren’t big but they were good. And a few hours later discovered in her luggage.
And conversations are had, and rules are made, and she is told that I work and that breakfast can be cooked at a certain time and lunch will be prepared when I can take a break even though I have deadlines and even though we explain that we are happy she is with us and we will do our best to make her as comfortable at every moment we still do so many things wrong and we do not do them fast enough. I can sympathize with her. What a drag it is getting old.
I can do anything for anyone. I can do it all day long. I can take care of people, and clean up after people, and run errands, and listen to the criticisms, and listen to the sighing. But there is no joy. No smile. No thank you. No joy at seeing the kids or spending time with them. Everything is awful, always. I’m not being oversensitive. It is what it is.
My husband and I lie in bed and whisper after dark. I ask him if she was always like this. Growing up she was worse he tells me, unhappy, critical, disapproving. I think of his siblings, his brother and his sister, how they all grew up with this and my heart breaks for the kids they were. Were they like my own children, who bring grandma a game to play or a book to read and she tells them no. My husband and his siblings are amazing parents, fun parents, smart and aware and conscientious and involved parents who have raised excellent humans who will do great things in life. It’s like they became the exact opposite of her. I play detective. I ask him what happened when she was growing up to make her this unhappy. I can find nothing that would explain any of this, and I think of other elderly people I know who have been graced with so much less who have joy, who are happy, who smile.
I ask her about raising kids, about what they were like when they were little, and she barely answers, or talks about how “bad” they all were or how much “trouble.” My attempts at engaging in conversations about anything other than when my cat last ate are usually met with sighs. She really likes my cat.
I don’t want to be this grandma. I want to be the grandma with the never-ending lap and the warm hugs and the forbidden candy and sneaks of my glass of beer to my teenage grandkids and stories until my mouth is sore and gifts of costume trinkets, glass baubles and rhinestones that will wrap round the skinny necks of my grandchildren as they teeter on my scuffed heels. I want to speak softly and sit in the sunshine and become extremely excited about looking at yellowed photographs.
There will be appointments made and a new living situation arranged and this too shall pass and it won’t be forever. It will turn into occasional family dinners and visits on weekends and it won’t feel as fraught and stressful as it does right now. But if you could tell me how we insure that I don’t become this way I would love to know. There is no dementia diagnosis or illness to blame this on. Â Even though I’m not religious and I don’t belong to any 12-step programs I create a new serenity prayer and repeat it in my brain over and over and over again:
God grant me the serenity to never become a bitter old woman who finds joy in nothing. And the wisdom to realize if it has happened before it’s too late.