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Luskin: Planning For Catastrophe

10/18/11 5:55PM By Deborah Luskin
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(HOST) With events like Tropical Storm Irene, it's possible to reduce risk with good emergency preparation, but recently commentator Deborah Luskin has been reminded that some things in life simply resist being managed.

(LUSKIN) My parents were active, healthy, golden-agers right up until they turned eighty. In the six years since then, however, their health, mobility, and cognition have steadily declined. My mother, in particular, has become frail. It's painful to watch, but she and my dad are adamant about caring for themselves, leaving my three brothers and me little to do beyond commiserate - and worry.

It's our behavior that's changed. We keep closer tabs on one another, emailing our itineraries when we travel, just in case.

Just in case what? Well, we don't know, but that doesn't stop us from conjecture: Mom is unsteady on her feet and could fall. Dad could have the heart attack that was averted by surgery years ago. They could have an accident in the car.

We're full of prescriptive suggestions: Mom should use a walker, have physical therapy, hire a home health aide; Dad should stop driving. Rightfully, my parents resent this interference.

We do what little they allow. Mostly, this involves having their daughter-in-law the doctor talk with their physicians, to discuss their medical care, and then running this information by their son-in-law the doctor, for a second opinion.

My brothers and I are not alone in caring long-distance for stubborn, aging parents. We all have friends facing the same challenges, and who confess to the same fears, fears which make our hearts pound when the phone rings at odd hours or when an aged parent doesn't answer or forgets to turn on the answering machine.

I'm a novelist, and an overactive imagination is an occupational hazard. I'm always anticipating catastrophe. Whenever I schedule something - from a speaking engagement to a night at the opera, I inevitably imagine how I would reschedule in case of an emergency. With elderly parents, I think it's not a matter of if, but when.

In the meantime, I guess the best thing we can do for my folks is be with them. They have always been family-oriented, and consider celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations the height of happiness.

My parents have summer birthdays, just five weeks apart. And they were married sixty-five years ago. This summer, we arranged for them to spend a weekend in Vermont while my brother from California was visiting. We hired a driver to bring them, and we put them up in a hotel with safety bars in the bathroom. They spent their days with us. As planned, relatives stopped by, including my cousin with her new baby.

Despite my fear-mongering, all went well - except for one thing.

What I didn't anticipate - what I never even imagined - was the accidental death of my neighbor's thirteen-year old daughter. I attended the funeral during my parents' visit. It was sad beyond words - and a good reminder that to plan for catastrophe is futile; it arrives all on its own. A wiser tactic is live fully in the here and now.
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