The Elder Care Blues: Things Could be Worse … and they will be!

The thing about life is that life has a life of its own, and you just never know when ‘life’s life’ is going to show up and where ‘it’ is going to take you.   For the most part the unexpected twists n’ turns are a mere blip in your day, barely noticeable.

For example:  You plan on wearing your black jeans, but they’re in the wash, so you grab your blue jeans.  You plan on going to a movie, but when you get there, it’s sold out.  No biggie.
There are the happy twists n’ turns.  You go to a party and run into an old friend and marry him (not that night, but soon thereafter).  You go on a trip to Chicago and unexpectedly connect to a gaggle of long lost cousins. (Best kind of family; little to no history but still family.) You permanently remove bucket loads of excess weight, create a website to share your experience and – holy cowgirls – a publisher asks you if you’d like to write a book. (All true.)

And then, there is the other kind of twist n’ turn; the type of twist that turns you inside out and upside-down and is not particularly welcomed.  Just as my husband, Peter, and I were making our final plans to spend a few open-ended months in Tucson without concern of a return date (a mini/semi-retirement for him — my work is portable), just as I was incredulously saying, “OMG! This is incredible!  We can go and come as we please. Can you believe it??”

Just as I bellowed from the deepest part of my soul, “Freedom!” a la Mel Gibson in Braveheart (I forgive you, Mel, for your lame-brained remarks), my fully independent, still living on her own, 95-year-young mother fell, not once — but twice — and…

…The world of elder care came crashing down upon us.

Peter and I rushed to the hospital where we found my mom — whose name is, by the way, Harriet — behind the emergency room curtain, lying lonely on the hospital bed. I asked, “Are you all right?”

Harriet replied in her usual witty and wry style, “Things could be worse… and they will be.”

We laughed. “Things could be worse… and they will be” is one of my mother’s signature sayings.

When I was five, Jimmy S. tripped me. (Intentionally?)  My chin cracked open (I have the scar to prove it), and by the time I made my way home, my pretty-in-plaid kindergarten dress was bloodied up.

Mom said in a somewhat playful yet serious tone, “Ohhhh.  Things could be worse.” She followed this with a sympathetic smile and a half-chuckle. “And they will be.”

When my 6-year-old neighbor decided to practice his barber skills on my favorite doll, Patty Playpal, and cut off her long locks much to my distress, my mom once again said, “Things could be worse… and they will be.”

So mom fell, not once but twice, and “things” surely could have been worse.   Her elbow was fractured; the crown of her head was cracked open just a tad, leaving a small gash; and she was pretty much a bruised-up mess.  But she did not break her hip, no surgery was needed and she still has all her marbles, which was a very good thing.

Naively, I thought, “A few weeks of rehab and life will return to normal.” Boy-oh-boy was I wrong!  The words, “Things could be worse… and they will be” have taken on new meaning.

As the weeks passed, it became abundantly clear that we were looking at a “new and lesser normal,” and that the day had arrived. My mom, 95.5 years young, who had lived happily in her Long Beach apartment for 31 years, was not going home.

Elder care is a minefield of logistics and a roller coaster of emotions.  As I stated, our scenario is not the worst ever, but nevertheless it is madly overwhelming.

Madly is defined as wildly, fiercely.  Its synonyms include absurdly, crazily, dementedly, desperately, exceedingly, frantically, frenziedly, hastily, irrationally, passionately, psychotically, senselessly, unreasonably, violently… Eldercare is all that and more.

One way I have been channeling my emotions, processing the daily happenings and seeing the opportunity in this journey (Yes, there’s plenty of opportunity here for personal growth, including but not limited to surrender, compassion and humor) is to fast and furiously send emails to my real and “chosen” family.

These missives, which ranged from “three-tissue reads” to “side-splitting belly laughs,” have proven to be an enormously therapeutic tool (for me), and the information and entertainment factor useful and even enjoyable for the family, which brings me here — to this page, and to YOU!

I know there are plenty of “us” caretakers out there, and we are stressed! According to a recent study from the American Psychological Association, 55 percent of caretakers are just “plain” stressed, and 22 percent are “extremely” stressed.

It is my intention to share my journey on these pages and to keep it real, which means telling the entire truth, not just the more sane and happier slices of it.  I think the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me G_d, is necessary here.

This isn’t about me.  True — writing to you all is a most excellent way for me to empty my mind and vent about the happenings in my life; but I am merely one of the very many boomers who are currently navigating (or will be soon enough) the strange, alien, frustrating and frankly, insane world of elder care.  Skimping on the truth wouldn’t be helpful or fair.

So… Here “we” go.  I am reaching out to you for support and at the same time offering support.  I am hopeful that you will seize this opportunity to empty your mind, tell your truth — comment below — so that we can, together, face this bittersweet time and help prepare those who are to follow.

Keep an eye out for my next post, when “delirium” hits Harriet and these pages!  Oy Vey!

Creative Commons License photo credit: LearningLark

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  1. The saying is really true. It shows that your mom is always positive towards life. She knows how see can handle the situations. But when she is not able to take care about herself, then she needs a caretaker or a helper who help her in her routine work.

  2. Boy, where do I begin!… My Dad is 92. Since the age of 85, he has had triple bypass surgery, broken his hip (and had surgery for that) and he still lives in his own home. He has an aide that comes for 4 hrs. a day, 6 days a week. I have gone through all the typical things an adult child would go through in this situation. Most of it was me wanting to impose my will on him…”you would be better off in assisted living” “This nurse would be the best for you” You need to __________ (just fill in the blank). When I finally surrendered and let him decide his own fate, life got so much better! Luckily, he is still pretty sharp mentally. It seems that the conundrum is that we go from the child role to the parental role and its hard to let go and accept that what they decide for themselves, while maybe not what we would suggest, is still their right. They lose so much of their independence and dignity. I realized I was perpetuating that feeling for him by imposing my
    choices on him. It has certainly been a journey! I will admit I’ve had my share of resentments. Add to this scenario that he was an alcoholic when I was growing up and you can probably imagine the picture.