What I'm Doing On My Summer Vacation
Watching "Law and Order" and endless repeats of Mother's Day movies on "The Hallmark Channel".
Washing my mother's hair. (you heard me...don't make me say it again.)
Waiting for Wednesday.
Eating - you get the idea.
May is a slow month in Merida - or so we're told; we've never tested that rumor. But I do know it is hot. In fact, May is the hottest month in the Yucatan, and if the three weeks leading up to May were early indications, we are in for a long, hot summer. So May is when we choose to close Casa Del May for a month for maintenance and upgrades (new doors, new paint, and even - now hold on to your seat - a new, larger septic tank!). But May is also the month we fit in a trip to the U.S. to visit family. And for the most part, and for many years, this has been an enjoyable visit that I looked forward to. But things are changing, and have changed. I am finally in that time of life when parental obligations are taking hold. They have already taken hold for my two brothers and sister-in-law and nephew. But living away from Louisville has spared me some of the stress and strain of my mother's slow decline into elder-hood. And this visit is proving that this is going to be a quicker and more rapid process in the near future.
My mother is 88 and by all indications is healthy, both physically and mentally. But she is, and always has been, something of a hypochondriac. Mom has a touch of COPD from being a smoker for about 20 years. Thankfully she quit smoking in her 40's, so she has spared herself a lot of the effects that I have seen evidenced in other people over the years. But she does have that COPD. And when I say she has a touch, I mean a touch. Her breathing is barely strained. Don't get me wrong, it is strained, but ever so slightly and I think she has chosen to make much more of it than she should. But it is what it is, and she has convinced herself she needs to be on oxygen 24/7. This one decision is driving all other decisions in her life. And because she chooses to be tethered to a steel tank and plastic tubing, she has found it difficult - not difficult, bothersome - she has found it bothersome to perform many of the everyday things we all take for granted. Because she feels she cannot be off the oxygen for even 10 minutes, she has stopped taking showers and "bathes" at the sink. Because she is afraid of too much heat near her oxygen tube she does not cook meals and eats much more "junk" food than she should. Because taking that portable oxygen tank with her out of doors is cumbersome she has stopped leaving the house. Many members of our extended family meet at a local restaurant every Friday night, and for years Mom attended. She has not been to that dinner in over 8 months. She is not even dressing, but sits in her recliner all day in her nightgown.
We are all flummoxed about what to do. This is partly because this is so unlike my mother. She has always been fairly active. For 35 years she walked to and from her job at A&P. And except for one, brief stay in the hospital after my sister, Tina, was born, she has never suffered from much more than a cold. And it is partly because she digs in her heels whenever we try to discuss what she needs to do to keep her quality of life high.
For Mother's Day I prepared a breakfast for Mom. She, my two brothers, my sister-in-law, and I ate at Mom's dining room table and had a nice time. But Mom refused to dress for the occasion. I almost insisted she dress, but she flatly refused.
So now I'm trying to figure out what is the problem, and what to do about it. Is she depressed? Does she feel physically bad all the time? Does she not perceive any reason to live? I cannot figure it out, and she won't talk about it - just says she cannot do this or that because of the oxygen, or because she is not feeling well, or because her back hurts. But she has been to the doctor and she has ruled out all these reasons, but cannot help us further.
So I think we are about to make some decisions for Mom that she may not like. Or maybe she will, who knows? We are about to hire someone to come in 3 times per week to help take care of her. We'll see where that leads - and how I feel about things in a few months.
This puts me, and my family, in different shoes. We are now becoming the parents, as so often happens. But when it happens to you it seems much more daunting and foreign. How do I now turn to my mother and tell her how things are going to be? I have to tell her that if she does not do certain things to take care of herself that we will step in and take over her life. We will decide when she goes to the doctor. We will decide who comes to her condo to help take care of her. We will take over her finances, which will be such a turn of events for Mom that it is hard to imagine how she might react; Mom has ALWAYS been the family accountant. My father had no clue how to even make a withdrawl from the bank. And we will decide, when we must, when and where she will live, next.
I guess I knew all my life that this time would come - that the children must become the parents. And now that that time is here, I am very uncomfortable with it. It feels like a betrayal. I can certainly rationalize it - I know that the changes my brothers, sister, and I will force upon Mom are for her own good - but we will probably never feel good about it.
In the meantime, I'm spending my summer vacation in Louisville, Kentucky, getting a taste of what it might be like when - and if - I'm 88, and vowing not to follow my mother's lead on this one.
I want to be like other 88 year olds: Bob Barker, my 92 year old friend Raul, who is embarking on yet another 2-week walking tour of an Asian country, or even Betty White, who has given us all a new outlook on growing old. It's going to happen to us all, if we are lucky. I just hope I handle it well.
But right now I'm getting in a lot of doughnut time.