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Worry

07/16/08 7:55AM By Mary McCallum
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(HOST)  Commentator Mary McCallum is a free lance writer and teacher who says that supporting her elderly parents' decision to continue living at home - in spite of serious health issues - has been a challenge.      

(McCALLUM) Last fall my 95-year-old father fell and broke his hip. He was going deaf and was in the early stages of Alzheimer's' Disease. My mother is 91 and legally blind. They were still living in the little old house they bought in 1946, surrounded by what I call "accidents waiting to happen": scatter rugs, extension cords, portable electric heaters, and dim 40-watt lighting. With a lifetime of thrifty living behind them, they managed on $24,000 a year in Social Security. It covered most of their needs, including the 40-watt bulbs. For almost a decade they'd been living this way - on borrowed time - without a Plan B to fall back on.

They were still living independently, and that would have been admirable if it weren't for the tsunami of anxiety it created among their five children. We're spread out among four states, and we're all in our sixties. Our parents' lack of planning and steadfast decision to stay put and oppose change kept us in a state of suspension.
 
My visits to them required a 10-hour round trip drive from Vermont to New York, and when I got there I shopped, cooked, did their errands, and made phone calls to doctors and insurance companies. I returned to Vermont exhausted and worried. I joked to friend, I could host my own 24-hour radio talk show called "All Worry, All the Time."

My mother's ramrod resistance to any alteration in their living arrangements didn't waver - even after my father broke his hip and entered a nursing home for rehab. He surprised us all by surviving surgery at 95, and  hoped to walk again, so we counted our blessings. But two months later Dad died, at home, surrounded by his family.  And Mom continues to live alone in the old house, still unwilling to make any changes.
 
I talk to others who have elderly parents and hear similar stories. We are a generation caught between the unexpected longevity of our parents and the blossoming awareness of our own aging. Like other boomers, I fretted about the safety, health and finances of my parents at the same time as I face the realities of having to plan for my own future.

In coping with my aging mother and father I've learned important lessons about acceptance and denial. I know that I want to remain flexible as I age, with a range of options that will make me feel like they are choices, not sentences imposed by crisis. If I leave big decisions undone they will only have to be shouldered by others. And for those who come after me, I don't want it to be "All Worry, All the Time."
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